New York Appeals Court Orders Yeshiva University to Recognize LGBT Club, Teeing Up Likely Supreme Court Battle

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The Orthodox Jewish school claims its constitutional rights and religious values are being violated

A New York state appeals court in Manhattan has rejected Yeshiva University’s bid to deny official recognition to a campus LGBT group, an act the religious school argued would violate its values and constitutional rights.

The case appears destined to return to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued rulings in an emergency posture in the dispute earlier this year. Three justices signed on to a dissent written by Justice Samuel Alito in which he said Yeshiva would likely prevail on the merits if the Supreme Court were to conduct oral arguments in the case.

Founded in 1897, the Orthodox Jewish university in New York City calls itself in court documents “the world’s premier Torah-based institution of higher education.” The word “yeshiva” itself refers to a traditional Jewish religious school.

Recognizing the LGBT student organization would violate its religious teachings, the school argues. But the club, called the YU Pride Alliance, along with the lower courts, say the paperwork for the nonprofit corporation that was used to create the school does not legally establish the institution’s religious character.

In June, Judge Lynn Kotler of the 1st Judicial District of the New York Supreme Court, a Democrat, found the university wasn’t a bona fide religious corporation because its “organizing documents” do not “expressly indicate that Yeshiva has a religious purpose.”

This meant the school was not exempt from the public accommodation provisions of the New York City Human Rights Law, which outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and that Yeshiva was therefore required to recognize the club.

This new order (pdf) in the long-running legal battle was issued by the First Judicial Department of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York on Dec. 15. The case is YU Pride Alliance v. Yeshiva University, case number 2022-02726.

The appeals court agreed with Kotler’s reasoning about the non-religious legal status of the corporation and rejected the First Amendment-based arguments the school advanced.

Providing the YU Pride Alliance with “full and equal access to public accommodations does not intrude on Yeshiva’s asserted right ‘to decide matters ‘of faith and doctrine,’” the court held, citing previous U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

Yeshiva already recognizes “LGBTQ+ student organizations at three of its graduate schools, which are legally part of Yeshiva’s corporation, has done so for over 25 years, and made clear as early as 1995 that this recognition did not mean Yeshiva endorsed or accepted the views of those student groups,” the appeals court stated.

“[W]e find that denial of recognition for the Pride Alliance is not ‘essential’ to Yeshiva’s ‘central mission,’” and that Yeshiva’s free exercise of religion was not violated.

The city’s human rights law must prevail here because its public-accommodations provision “is both neutral and generally applicable.”

YU Pride attorney Katie Rosenfeld did not respond to requests for comment from The Epoch Times.

But she told Reuters that the new court decision shows that Yeshiva University “cannot discriminate against its LGBTQ+ students by continuing its refusal to recognize the YU Pride Alliance.”

The university said it would continue its fight in the courts against forced recognition of the club.

“Yeshiva is disappointed in the court’s ruling and will continue on appeal to defend against the claim that we are not a religious institution,” Yeshiva University spokesperson Hanan Eisenman told The Epoch Times in a brief emailed statement.

The U.S. Supreme Court seemed sympathetic to Yeshiva University’s position earlier this year, halting a lower court ruling temporarily.

On Sept. 9, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who oversees emergency applications from New York, unilaterally put Kotler’s ruling on hold at the request of Yeshiva. But on Sept. 14, the full Supreme Court voted 5-4 to lift the stay.

The court said in an unsigned order that it would be willing to consider the case again in the future but was removing the stay “because it appears that applicants have at least two further avenues for expedited or interim state court relief,” as The Epoch Times reported.

Justice Alito dissented (pdf) from the ruling, writing that “Yeshiva would likely win if its case came before us.”

“Does the First Amendment permit a state to force a Jewish school to instruct its students in accordance with an interpretation of Torah that the school, after careful study, has concluded is incorrect?” Alito wrote, joined by three conservative justices.

“The answer to that question is surely ‘no.’

“The First Amendment guarantees the right to the free exercise of religion, and if that provision means anything, it prohibits a state from enforcing its own preferred interpretation of Holy Scripture.

“Yet that is exactly what New York has done in this case, and it is disappointing that a majority of this court refuses to provide relief.”

Matthew Vadum

Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.

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