Three Muslim Football Players Sue New Mexico University Over Religious Discrimination

August 28, 2006 12:00 am

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LAS CRUCES, NM – In a lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, three Muslim athletes accused New Mexico State University head football coach Hal Mumme of discharging them from the school’s football team in 2005 because of their religious beliefs. The lawsuit charges Mumme, university provost William Flores and the university Board of Regents with religious discrimination and violations of the athletes’ right to freely exercise their religion.

“Universities are supposed to be places of evolved thinking and reason, not of base intolerance and bigotry,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “They are supposed to rise above the knee-jerk prejudices that sometimes afflict our society. In this case, the university failed its purpose and a coach indulged in those prejudices to assert his own religious preferences over the players and the team.”

The ACLU is representing Mu-Ammar Ali, who played on athletic scholarship for the team for three consecutive seasons, and twin brothers Anthony and Vincent Thompson, who joined the team in 2004.

According to the lawsuit, when Mumme took over as coach in Spring 2005, he established a practice of having players lead the Lord’s Prayer after each practice and before each game. Ali and the Thompsons said that the practice made them feel like outcasts and caused them to pray separately from the other players.

Not long after Mumme learned that Ali and the Thompsons were Muslim, he prohibited the Thompsons from attending the spring 2005 training camp and questioned Ali about his attitudes towards Al-Qaeda.

The Thompsons were discharged from the team on September 2, 2005, allegedly because they moved their belongings to an unapproved locker and were labeled “troublemakers.” On October 9, 2005, Mumme left Ali a message on his home answering machine that his jersey was being pulled and that he was discharged from the NMSU football team.

“Being coach doesn’t give someone the right to make a football team into a religious brotherhood,” Simonson said. “University coaches are tax-paid role models. The public has a right to expect that they are going to model behaviors that we endorse as a society. Religious intolerance is not one of those behaviors.”

Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages. Attorneys for the ACLU are Joleen Youngers and ACLU staff attorney George Bach.

The complaint is online at

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