Yeshiva U Wins Gay-Rights Case, for Now

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor rules that the university need not recognize an LGBTQ organization.

September 12, 2022
The seal of Yeshiva University, featuring the school's motto, "Torah and secular knowledge," in Hebrew lettering.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ruled Friday that Yeshiva University may—for now—refuse to recognize a LGBTQ student group, the YU Pride Alliance.

Her ruling did not express any opinion on the merits of the Pride Alliance’s request for recognition, or Yeshiva’s statements that doing so would violate its Orthodox Jewish faith. The ruling simply said that the case “is hereby stayed pending further order of the undersigned or of the court.”

The Supreme Court has a majority of justices who generally vote in favor of groups that argue that their religious liberties have been violated.

The alliance, for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer students, has been fighting for recognition for several years. Yeshiva argued that as a religious organization, it is exempt from the New York City Human Rights Law, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

New York State Judge Lynn R. Kotler ruled in June against Yeshiva, even though she said “at first blush” the answer to the legal question “may seem obvious,” given Yeshiva’s “proud and rich Jewish heritage.”

But Kotler ruled that Yeshiva’s organizing documents do not describe a religious institution but an “educational corporation.” And she cited a 1995 document in which a Yeshiva official said the university was governed by New York City law. She noted that Yeshiva’s lawyers said the university would be happy to change its charter, but she said that offer “concedes the point.” And Yeshiva applies for state grants as a “not-for-profit institution of higher education.”

That ruling was praised by the Pride Alliance, which said, “Our club applications have been repeatedly rejected, and so we are grateful that the court has affirmed our legal rights … to the same opportunities afforded to every other club at YU … We are proud to be students at Yeshiva University and are excited to continue our work at YU in an official capacity.”

The new ruling was praised by Yeshiva.

“We are pleased with Justice Sotomayor’s ruling which protects our religious liberty and identity as a leading faith-based academic institution,” said Rabbi Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva. “But make no mistake, we will continue to strive to create an environment that welcomes all students, including those of our LGBTQ community. We remain committed to engaging in meaningful dialogue with our students, Rabbis and faculty about how best to ensure an inclusive campus for all students in accordance with our Torah values.”

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Also praising the decision was the Becket Foundation, which defends religious people and organizations, and which is representing Yeshiva in the case.

“Yeshiva shouldn’t have been forced to go all the way to the Supreme Court to receive such a commonsense ruling in favor of its First Amendment rights,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “We are grateful that Justice Sotomayor stepped in to protect Yeshiva’s religious liberty in this case.”

Not all Jewish organizations have agreed fully with Yeshiva’s position. Many non-Orthodox Jewish organizations have embraced gay rights.

Marc Stern, chief legal officer for the American Jewish Committee, issued this statement, “The interim ruling is not a ruling on the merits. Nevertheless, even a temporary stay would not have been issued if Justice Sotomayor believed the claim was frivolous or that some of her colleagues would think it was substantial. The case is one of a series of cases probing how to reconcile principles of equality with principles of religious freedom and freedom of speech. These are hard and important cases, which deserve levelheaded examination.”

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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