Yeshiva University shelves undergraduate clubs instead of recognizing LGBTQ group during legal battle

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Dive Brief:

  • Yeshiva University shut down all undergraduate clubs last week rather than recognize an LGBTQ club, a move coming after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to immediately intercede in a case pitting New York City human rights law against religious freedom.
  • The Supreme Court initially blocked a trial court’s order from June telling the university, which is historically affiliated with Orthodox Judaism, to recognize the club because of New York City’s human rights law. But justices voted 5-4 Wednesday to stop blocking the order, with the majority telling Yeshiva it could return to the nation’s top court only after it pursued appeal options in New York.
  • Yeshiva told students it was suspending clubs as it pursued those appeals, its independent student newspaper, The Commentator, reported Friday. On Monday, a university spokesperson confirmed Yeshiva has submitted new briefs in court and said the institution hopes to restore clubs soon.

Dive Insight:

Yeshiva suspended undergraduate clubs after high-profile legal jostling between the 5,500-student university and several of its current and former students who want it to recognize a Yeshiva Pride Alliance.

A New York court ordered Yeshiva to recognize the club in June, finding in part that the institution didn’t count as a religious corporation under state law and that recognizing a group isn’t the same thing as endorsing it. Yeshiva appealed within the state’s court system but turned to the Supreme Court because its fall club application process was scheduled to end Sept. 12.

The university argued it would suffer irreparable harm from a “government-enforced establishment of a Yeshiva Pride Alliance club.” 

Those bringing the lawsuit replied that New York City human rights law mandates their group be able to receive the “same facilities and benefits” as 87 other student groups Yeshiva recognizes. They also argued the university jumped out of order by involving the Supreme Court before it exhausted its legal options in New York.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor blocked the New York court’s order for a few days. After all justices examined the issue, a narrow majority decided not to continue blocking the trial court’s order. The majority wrote that the university could correct procedural issues to its appeal and ask for a speedy review of its case in New York.

After the Supreme Court stepped back from the case, Yeshiva’s president, Rabbi Ari Berman, issued a statement Thursday saying every faith-based university in the U.S. has the right to set up clubs and spaces fitting within its religious traditions. Yeshiva was seeking that same right, Berman said.

“The Supreme Court has laid out the roadmap for us to find expedited relief and we will follow their instructions,” Berman said. “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.”

Yeshiva told students it was suspending undergraduate clubs in an email from a student activities account, the student newspaper reported. The email said that in light of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, coming next week, 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.”

Lawyers for the university submitted briefs for appeals Friday, a spokesperson said in a statement.

“We anticipate a quick conclusion in the courts and the start of clubs soon,” the spokesperson said in a Monday email.

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