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ACLU accuses Mumme of religious discrimination

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico has filed a grievance against New Mexico State head football coach Hal Mumme, alleging he discriminated against a now-released Muslim player by repeatedly questioning him about al-Qaida.

The grievance filed Tuesday on behalf of former Aggie running back Muammar Ali also alleges the football staff required the team to recite the Lord's Prayer at the end of each practice.

The grievance seeks a public apology from Mumme and disciplinary action against him. The ACLU also asked that NMSU provide diversity training to all students and employees.

NMSU athletic director McKinley Boston confirmed the university
had received the ACLU complaint. He said the issue will be
investigated but indicated there will be no further comment "to
ensure the integrity of the investigation."

Peter Simonson, the ACLU's executive director in Albuquerque, said discipline could range from a note in Mumme's personnel file to firing.

The ACLU said Ali does not want to return to the Aggies to play
for Mumme.

However, alleged discrimination against Muslims means Ali likely has lost a full year of playing college football and his scholarship for the 2006-2007 season, the ACLU said. To remedy that, Ali wants "to ensure he is compensated for the loss of play-time this year and to ensure his scholarship funding remains intact through the end of the 2006-2007 season," the grievance
said.

Ali -- highly touted by Mumme and his staff in spring practice -- started this season atop the depth chart against UTEP, carrying the ball seven times for 21 yards. He suited up the following week
against Colorado in Boulder, but Justine Buries got the starting
nod. Ali was not on the roster for the Aggies' next four games
before his Oct. 9 release.

Mumme has said the change was "performance based." Buries now
is among the leading rushers in the Western Athletic Conference.

Ali's father, Mustafa Ali, said in a telephone call from
California that Ali learned he was being released through a message
an assistant coach left on his cell phone. His father said he has
been denied meetings with coaches.

The grievance, written by ACLU staff attorney George Bach of Albuquerque, said Mumme questioned Ali repeatedly in July about "Islam and specifically its ties to al-Qaida," the terrorist organization headed by Osama bin Laden.

Those actions "smack of religious discrimination sufficient to warrant a complete and immediate investigation by the NMSU Office
of Institutional Equity," the ACLU said.

The ACLU also is considering sending a letter to the NCAA, which
could sanction the team, Simonson said.

The organization filed a grievance rather than a lawsuit to give
the university a chance to deal with the issue internally, Simonson
said.

"We're concerned about whether or not there's just a pervasive
environment of discrimination toward people of religious faiths
that don't match the coaches'," he said. "Our hope is that with
this grievance the university will take a comprehensive look at how
players are being treated."

Simonson said the other point in the grievance -- that players
are required to recite the Lord's Prayer -- is "just a clear and
unqualified constitutional violation. So the university should
probably know that regardless of what the outcome of their
investigation regarding Muammar shows, they are still vulnerable to
a serious First Amendment claim."

Mustafa Ali said his son and the family would not discuss the
grievance.

He said Ali has been contacted by at least five Division I-AA
football programs about a possible transfer from NMSU to pursue his
football career and possibly a career in track and field.

The grievance also notes the Aggies released two other Muslim
players, twin brothers Anthony and Vincent Thompson, in August.
Neither was on scholarship nor included in the team's media guide
or rosters.