FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 28, 2006
CONTACT: Whitney Potter (505) 266 5915 ext. 1003, Cell (505) 507 9898 or Joleen Youngers (505) 541-8000, Cell (505) 496-7422
LAS CRUCES, NM–Three Muslim athletes have accused New Mexico State University head football coach Hal Mumme of discharging them from the NMSU football team in 2005 because of their religious beliefs. Mu’Ammar Ali played on athletic scholarship for the team for 3 consecutive seasons, and Anthony and Vincent Thompson joined the team on red-shirt status in 2004. Today the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico sued Mumme, NMSU president William Flores, and the NMSU board of regents for 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 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.”
When Mumme took over the NMSU program 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 claim 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 Thompson 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 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.
Simonson said, “Being coach doesn’t give someone the right to make a football team into a religious brotherhood. 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.