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Yeshiva University petitions Supreme Court to block recognition of campus LGBTQ club

Flagship Modern Orthodox university in New York asks highest US court to step in, citing 1st Amendment rights, after local ruling demands it recognize Pride group

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

A poster advertises an LGBTQ event at Yeshiva University, December 15, 2020. (Courtesy of Yeshiva University student organizers)
A poster advertises an LGBTQ event at Yeshiva University, December 15, 2020. (Courtesy of Yeshiva University student organizers)

NEW YORK — Yeshiva University in New York City on Monday requested that the US Supreme Court block a lower court’s ruling that demanded the university recognize a campus LGBTQ pride group.

The flagship Modern Orthodox university cited its rights under the First Amendment, which protects the free exercise of religion.

The university said in a statement that it was seeking action from the nation’s highest court “to conduct its internal affairs in accordance with its religious beliefs.”

The request comes amid a lengthy legal battle between the university and an LGBTQ Pride Alliance Club hinging on whether the university is a religious or secular institution.

In 2020, a group of LGBTQ student activists accused the university of discrimination in a complaint to the city’s Commission on Human Rights, then sued the university last year.

In June, the New York County Supreme Court ruled in the case YU Pride Alliance v. Yeshiva University that the school must recognize the group. Judge Lynn Kotler said the university is chartered as a non-religious organization and is therefore subject to human rights law. The court also said the university offers too many secular degrees to qualify for religious exemptions.

Monday’s request to the Supreme Court was an emergency stay against that ruling, pending further appeals. The New York State Supreme Court denied another Yeshiva University appeal last week.

“As a deeply religious Jewish university, Yeshiva cannot comply with that order because doing so would violate its sincere religious beliefs about how to form its undergraduate students in Torah values,” the request to the Supreme Court said.

“Yeshiva and its President are now being ordered to violate their religious beliefs or face contempt,” the petition said. It also said recognizing the club would cause “irreparable” harm to the university’s reputation.

“That ruling is an unprecedented intrusion into Yeshiva’s religious beliefs and the religious formation of its students in the Jewish faith. It is also an indisputably clear violation of Yeshiva’s First Amendment rights,” it said.

The request noted that the university’s club application process for the 2022-2023 school year has opened, and continues until September 12. Recognition would grant the Pride club funding and other benefits.

The university said in a Monday statement that the lower court’s ruling “would force Yeshiva to put its stamp of approval on a club and activities that are inconsistent with the school’s Torah values and the religious environment it seeks to maintain.”

Gay sex is largely forbidden in Orthodox Judaism.

Yeshiva University President Ari Berman said, “We care deeply for and welcome all of our students, including our LGBTQ students.”

“We only ask the government to allow us the freedom to apply the Torah in accordance with our values,” Berman said in a statement.

The university argues it is a religious institution that requires all undergraduates to “engage in intense religious studies” and adheres to Jewish law on campus.

The request was filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit that opposes government interference in religious practice. It was filed to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal, who will decide how to proceed with the case. The court has a conservative majority that has previously ruled in favor of religious conservatives.

The Jewish Queer Youth activist group said in a statement that the university was “demonstrating the very homophobia that they claim does not exist on campus.”

“Instead of listening to what they are actually asking for, a safe space where they can form friendships and community, YU is deliberately confusing queer youth’s need for self-esteem with a non-existent demand for sexual behavior,” the group said.

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