Three former New Mexico State University football players – all Muslims – on Monday sued the university and coach Hal Mumme, alleging they were dismissed from the team because of their religious beliefs.

The federal lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Mu’Ammar Ali and brothers Anthony and Vincent Thompson. The lawsuit alleges religious discrimination and violations of the athletes’ right to freely exercise their religion.

The suit claims that Mumme, who was hired by New Mexico State in January 2005, instituted a “religious brotherhood” within the football team and singled out Muslim athletes on the team.

“Universities are supposed to be places of evolved thinking and reason, not of base intolerance and bigotry” said Peter Simonson, executive director of ACLU New Mexico. “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.”

Bruce Kite, the school’s general counsel, said he had not seen the lawsuit.

“I really don’t know what the allegations are. To say anything at this point and time would not be appropriate,” Kite told The Associated Press.

Besides Mumme, the lawsuit also names the NMSU board of regents and William V. Flores, the school’s vice president and provost.

The lawsuit said Mumme had players recite the Lord’s Prayer after each practice and before each game. Ali and the Thompsons said that practice made them feel like outcasts and caused them to pray separately from the other players.

According to the lawsuit, not long after Mumme learned that Ali and the Thompsons were Muslim, he prohibited the Thompsons from attending the team’s spring 2005 training camp and questioned Ali about his attitudes toward al-Qaida.

The lawsuit says the Thompsons were dismissed from the team on Sept. 2, 2005, allegedly because they moved their belongings to an unapproved locker and were labeled “troublemakers.”


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