Football Players Sue Coach for Religious Discrimination

Football Players Sue Coach for Religious Discrimination

The university vice president and board of regents also named in suit

Three former New Mexico State University football players -- all Muslim -- sued their coach and the school, claiming they were kicked off the team because of their religious beliefs.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of Mu’Ammar Ali, and brothers, Anthony, and Vincent Thompson. The suit alleges that the university practiced religious discrimination, and violated the athletes’ right to freely practice their beliefs.

In addition to Hal Mumme, the young men’s football coach, the suit also named William V. Flores, the school’s vice president, and the NMSU board of regents.

The Players’ Claim

According to the claim, Mumme routinely had the team recite the Lord’s Prayer after practice and before each game. Ali and his brothers said this practice made them feel singled out and led them to pray separately from the rest of the team.

The lawsuit states that Mumme prohibited the Thompsons from attending the spring 2005 training camp after finding out about their religious beliefs. The coach is also accused of questioning Ali more than once about his attitudes toward al-Qaida.

Mumme eventually removed the athletes from the team, allegedly because they moved their belongings to another locker without permission – an act that had them labeled as “troublemakers.”
“Universities are supposed to be places of evolved thinking and reason, not of base intolerance and bigotry,” said the executive director of the ACLU New Mexico, 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 Players Seek Justice

Last year, the ACLU sought disciplinary action against Mumme, as well as a public apology from him. The players are currently seeking punitive and compensatory damages.
Simonson said that the school’s failure to take action against Mumme, “definitely contributed to the decision because basically the university dismissed what were very credible complaints. The only resource left to us was a lawsuit," Simonson said.

"When you've got players reporting that the coach is having players recite the Lord's Prayer as a routine practice ... that in itself suggests a discriminatory environment," he said.

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