Jewish university shuts clubs to avoid recognising LGBTQ group

Private Orthodox institution acts after US Supreme Court upholds state court recognition order that’s likely to be reversed later

September 20, 2022
Yeshiva University. View from the Harlem River.
Source: iStock

Yeshiva University has closed down all its undergraduate club activities to avoid a temporary US Supreme Court requirement that the private Orthodox Jewish institution recognise an LGBTQ student group.

The Supreme Court acted after a state court in New York ordered the university to recognise the LGBTQ club, although it did so narrowly and on procedural grounds, with the university expected to prevail eventually.

Nevertheless, Yeshiva’s president, Ari Berman, halted all student clubs rather than allow its LGBTQ students even a moment of acceptance at their 2,200-student four-campus institution in New York City.

“Every faith-based university in the country has the right to work with its students, including its LGBTQ students, to establish the clubs, places and spaces that fit within its faith tradition,” Dr Berman said in a statement. “Yeshiva University simply seeks that same right of self-determination.”

The student LGBTQ group, the YU Pride Alliance, has been waging years of legal battles for recognition. Its attorney called Yeshiva’s shutdown of all clubs a shameful tactic meant to pit students against each other, and compared it to the infamous 1963 case in which Mississippi’s capital city of Jackson closed all its public swimming pools rather than accept a court’s desegregation order.

The Yeshiva case involves a balance of two competing rights – the university’s desire to exercise its religious beliefs against the students’ appeal for protection under state anti-discrimination laws.

The US Supreme Court did not formally hear those arguments in voting 5-4 against Yeshiva’s request to block the state court order. The nation’s top court, however, has a 6-3 conservative majority sympathetic to religious rights arguments, and its order suggested that it might ultimately side with Yeshiva if the university followed the proper procedural pathway of first asking New York’s state supreme court.

The four conservative justices who backed Yeshiva issued a dissenting opinion in which they outright predicted a win for the university if it follows the majority’s suggested route through the state court system.

Yeshiva did not say how long it would keep all student clubs closed, but said it would seek the expedited answer from the New York state courts proposed to it by the US Supreme Court, and then return to the federal level if needed.

“At the same time,” Dr Berman said in his statement to the Yeshiva community, “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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