Orthodox Jewish university doesn't have to approve LGBT club for now, Sotomayor rules

A Yeshiva University sign is located at one of the school's campuses in New York City.
A Yeshiva University sign is located at one of the school's campuses in New York City. | Screenshot: FOX 5 New York

An Orthodox Jewish college does not have to approve an LGBT club for students as litigation between the school and those hoping to start the group is expected to move forward. 

On Friday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ruled that the New York City-based Yeshiva University does not have to approve the establishment of a "Pride Alliance" for LGBT students at the Orthodox Jewish school.

Sotomayor's stay temporarily reverses a lower court decision as litigation surrounding the matter continues. The stay will remain in effect until either Justice Sotomayor or the court makes additional orders. 

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"We are pleased with Justice Sotomayor's ruling which protects our religious liberty and identity as a leading faith-based academic institution," Yeshiva University President Rabbi Ari Berman said in a statement. "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."

Eric Becker, a senior counsel and vice president at Becket Law, a nonprofit representing Yeshiva in the ongoing litigation, praised Sotomayor for issuing a "commonsense ruling in favor of its First Amendment rights."

"Justice Sotomayor stepped in to protect Yeshiva's religious liberty in this case," Becker said, adding that the university "shouldn't have been forced to go all the way to the Supreme Court" to achieve such a result.

Yeshiva University sought relief from the U.S. Supreme Court after the New York State Supreme Court ruled that Yeshiva University leaders are "permanently restrained from continuing their refusal to officially recognize the YU Pride Alliance as a student organization because of the members' sexual orientation or gender and/or YU Pride Alliance's status, mission, and/or activities on behalf of LGBTQ students." 

The ruling required the university to grant the organization the privileges afforded to all other student organizations.

The New York Supreme Court concluded that Yeshiva's primary purpose as an institution was not religious in nature but academic, specifically that it serves as an "educational corporation" instead of a "religious corporation."

The Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court declined an appeal of the State Supreme Court's decision. In its request for a stay, the counsel for Yeshiva University elaborated on the adverse impact of the lower court's ruling. 

"As a deeply religious Jewish university, Yeshiva cannot comply with that order because doing so would violate its sincere religious beliefs about how to form its undergraduate students in Torah values. The club application process opens on August 26 and runs through September 12. Absent this Court's intervention, Yeshiva has been ordered to approve an official Pride Alliance club – which it cannot do consistent with its Torah values – on pain of contempt," the document states.

Sotomayor's ruling came three days before the conclusion of the club application window. Sotomayor did not explicitly weigh in on Yeshiva's request for the Supreme Court as a whole to weigh in on the case.

Students seeking to start a "Pride Alliance" on campus contended that the university's refusal to approve their club constituted a violation of the New York City Human Rights Law, which prohibits places of public accommodation from engaging in discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Writing on behalf of the school, Becket Law characterized the lower court ruling as a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Yeshiva's efforts to reverse the decision come as the U.S. Congress has repeatedly tried and failed to pass the Equality Act, which would codify nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community into federal law.

At a panel discussion last year, Maria Keffler of the group Partners for Ethical Care warned that under the Equality Act, "there is no exemption for religious services, there is no exemption for religious foster care providers, there is no exemption for religious schools." 

Last year, a coalition of Christian activists wrote a letter to leaders of the U.S. Senate warning that the Equality Act is "a danger not just to Christian institutions but those belonging to our Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, and Muslim neighbors as well."

They predicted that the federal government would "revoke federal security, disaster relief, and school lunch money from thousands of religious schools" for failing to comply with provisions of the Equality Act that violate their deeply held religious convictions.

In February 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act by a 224-206 vote that fell mostly along party lines, with all Democrats supporting the measure and nearly all Republicans voting in opposition. The bill has stalled in the evenly divided U.S. Senate, where most legislation requires 60 votes to pass as opposed to a simple majority of 51. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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