Yeshiva University Suspends All Clubs to Avoid Recognizing Pride Alliance

A view of Yeshiva University’s Zysman Hall – Photo: Scaligera, via Wikimedia.

Yeshiva University, an Orthodox Jewish college in New York City, has temporarily suspended all club activities to avoid granting an LGBTQ rights club the same opportunities as other student groups.

According to The Commentator, Yeshiva University’s student newspaper, school officials sent an email saying that as the Jewish High Holy Days approach, the university will “hold off on all undergraduate club activities while it immediately takes steps to follow the roadmap provided by the US Supreme Court to protect YU’s religious freedom.”

The freeze came two days after the Supreme Court narrowly decided, on a 5-4 vote, not to hear an emergency appeal of a New York state court’s ruling that the university had discriminated against the YU Pride Alliance by refusing to acknowledge it as an officially recognized on-campus group. By refusing to hear the university’s emergency appeal, the high court has allowed the lower court ruling to temporarily stand while the case is litigated on its merits in the courts.

Official recognition by the school would have allowed the Pride Alliance to use school facilities as meeting spaces, put up fliers on school bulletin boards advertising its meetings and events, and have a booth set up at the school’s club fair.

The student group’s lawyer, Katie Rosenfeld, told The Washington Post the shut-down is “a throwback to 50 years ago when the city of Jackson, Miss., closed all public swimming pools rather than comply with court orders to desegregate.”

“The Pride Alliance seeks a safe space on campus, nothing more,” Rosenfeld wrote to The Post. “By shutting down all club activities, the YU administration attempts to divide the student body, and pit students against their LGBT peers.”

The shutdown of all on-campus clubs is the latest action taken by the university as part of an extended legal dispute between it and the Pride Alliance. The Pride Alliance sued the school last year, arguing that the refusal to recognize it as an official group violated New York City’s Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

As a modern Orthodox Jewish school, Yeshiva University has claimed that the religious beliefs on which the school was founded, including opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage, should exempt it from having to abide by the Human Rights Law.

In June, New York Supreme Court Judge Lynn Kotler ruled in favor of the Pride Alliance, rejecting the university’s claim that it meets the law’s definition of a “religious corporation,” which would allow it to discriminate on the basis of its stated religious beliefs.

The university appealed to the Supreme Court, and on September 9, Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the school a temporary stay on the state court ruling.

The Supreme Court released its decision on the case Wednesday. The unsigned majority decision said the university has other options for relief that it should explore before potentially returning to the Supreme Court.

Justice Samuel Alito issued a dissenting opinion arguing that if Yeshiva University returns to the Supreme Court after appealing elsewhere, it “would likely win.” He was joined in that opinion by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.

In a statement released after the Supreme Court order, Yeshiva Univeristy President Rabbi Ari Berman said the school would pursue further legal action. He said the university sought the “same right of self-determination” as any other faith-based university working to establish clubs that “fit within its faith tradition.”

“The Supreme Court has laid out the roadmap for us to find expedited relief and we will follow their instructions,” Berman said in the statement. “At the same time, as our commitment to and love for our LGBTQ students are unshakeable, we continue to extend our hand in invitation to work together to create a more inclusive campus life consistent with our Torah values.”

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