Paul L. Caron

Sunday, May 2, 2021

48 Cardozo Law Professors Urge Parent Yeshiva University To Reverse Its 'Wrong And Unlawful' Ban On LGBTQ+ Student Group

Letter From 48 Cardozo Law Professors To Yeshiva University President (Apr. 27, 2021):

Cardozo (2015)As members of the Yeshiva University community, the forty-eight undersigned faculty members of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law write to express our dismay at the University’s continued refusal not to allow undergraduate students to form a group devoted to building community and support for LGBTQ+ students. We appreciate your expressions of empathy and, as described in a fall 2020 memo “Fostering an Inclusive Community,” the establishment of measures to address issues of diversity and inclusion. But the continued refusal to recognize the student organization is hurtful to our students and other community members and will seriously damage the reputation of the University’s graduate and undergraduate programs. It is also wrong and unlawful.

Discrimination against a student organization solely because of its focus on LGBTQ+ issues has no place in a University that holds itself out as a community committed to the flourishing and equal dignity of all its members. We have a collective obligation to ensure that each student is supported and given the opportunity to thrive, and refusing to extend access to University facilities to this student group on the same terms all other student groups enjoy will prevent LGBTQ+ students, together with their allies, from creating the space to find that support. Particularly as our students grapple already with the effects of a catastrophic public health crisis and deepening racial divide, insisting that LGBTQ+ students bear this avoidable additional insult is hard to fathom. Indeed, at Cardozo, where LGBTQ+ students are a vital part of our community, with an active and engaged student group, no such discrimination is practiced or tolerated. We find it unacceptable that our parent University would adopt such a hurtful policy towards the undergraduate student body.

The University’s decision also is unlawful under federal, state, and city civil rights laws, all of which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation. As a non-sectarian institution of higher education, the University must abide by these proscriptions. We understand that the University came to the same conclusion more than 25 years ago — concluding that it was required by antidiscrimination laws to afford equal treatment to LGBTQ+ students — and the legal protections for LGBTQ+ people have significantly strengthened since that time.

At bottom, this issue turns on basic principles of dignity and equal treatment. Over the past several months, some of us have met with you and members of the University’s Ad Hoc.

Committee formed to consider these issues. While these meetings were respectful, there is still no apparent end in sight to the University’s unacceptable treatment of our LGBTQ+ students, we are compelled to call on you to make clear that discrimination has no home in this historic institution and to give full and equal recognition to LGBTQ+ student groups on the University’s undergraduate campuses.

Washington Post, Yeshiva University Students File Lawsuit to Get LGBTQ Student Club Recognized:

After several attempts at gaining official student club status from their university, a group of students and alumni Monday filed a lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court against Yeshiva University, claiming that the school violated the city’s human rights law by denying them the right to form a recognized LGBTQ student club.

The lawsuit against the New York City-based school of about 3,000 students is expected to surface tensions over LGBT issues at the Modern Orthodox Jewish university, which aims to keep one foot in the Orthodox tradition of Judaism and another in modern American education. ...

While non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism embrace LGBT members, most Orthodox Jews are hesitant to do so based on their reading of the Torah. What makes Yeshiva University, seen by many as the preeminent educational Modern Orthodox institution, unique from some other religious institutions is that it registers as a nonsectarian corporation.

In a statement regarding the lawsuit, Yeshiva University noted its commitment to the Torah.

“At the heart of our Jewish values is love — love for God and love for each of His children,” the statement said. “Our LGBTQ+ students are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, family and friends. Our policies on harassment and discrimination against students on the basis of protected classifications including LGBTQ+ are strong and vigorously enforced. Our Torah-guided decision about this club in no way minimizes the care and sensitivity that we have for each of our students, nor the numerous steps the university has already taken.”

Katie Rosenfeld, an attorney with Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP who is representing a group of three students and three alumni named in the lawsuit, said she believes that the university is bound by the New York City Human Rights Law, just like any other university in the city, because it has received government and state funding such as tax-incentivized bond issuances because of its designation as a secular institution.

Religious institutions are often granted exemptions from nondiscrimination laws because of their religious views. A group of 33 current and past students at several federally funded Christian colleges and universities filed a class-action federal lawsuit in March against the U.S. Department of Education, saying the religious exemption allowing them to have discriminatory policies is unconstitutional because they receive government funding.

But Rosenfeld said Yeshiva University’s case is unique because it has had secular status since 1969 and should be treated like any other institution that would not be allowed to discriminate against a group of LGBT students. ...

Yeshiva University students and alumni have made previous efforts to get an LGBTQ club called YU Pride Alliance formally recognized, but the school officially denied the group club status in the fall. The university also announced policies it said were intended to make LGBT students feel more included. ...

According to a 1995 university memo obtained by one of the alumni and mentioned in the lawsuit, Yeshiva University received advice from a law firm that it was required to allow LGBTQ students to form a recognized student organization under the city’s human rights law, but it has not complied with that legal advice. ...

Jewish Press, YU LGBTQ Sue Administrators for Discrimination:

According to The Commentator, the late Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the profound spiritual leader of YU, was adamant in his opposition to designating the religious Jewish university as a non-sectarian institution in 1970, a change that qualified the institution to receive state funds. Rabbi Soloveitchik warned that its new, non-sectarian designation, would leave YU with “only a limited right to formulate rules” that comply with Jewish law.

The stark change in values that characterize YU was perhaps best stressed in a letter of protest that was sent by 48 law professors teaching at Cardozo Law (YU’s law school) to YU President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman: “Discrimination against a student organization solely because of its focus on LGBTQ+ issues has no place in a University that holds itself out as a community committed to the flourishing and equal dignity of all its members.”

We looked it up. In 2020, the YU endowment stood at $615.1 million. This was, essentially, the price the university charged for transforming from a religious Jewish school to “a community committed to the flourishing and equal dignity of all its members.” It’s called, Pay the piper. ...

I checked out the YU Pride Alliance’s Facebook page, which last Friday featured a sermon by Rabbi Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh Yeshiva of the Modern Orthodox Ohr Torah Stone network of institutions. Rabbi Brander was making a cogent point about the fact that the Torah prohibition against relations between two Jewish men does not mean that gay Jewish men should be ostracized by the community. The rabbi is 100 percent correct, and across the Modern Orthodox world, gay men and women are usually welcome to partake in community prayer and other events, as equal members.

However, I am not aware of Ohr Torah Stone condoning gay marriages in Orthodox synagogues. Because this is against the spirit of the Torah. Yeshiva University is also welcoming of students of all sexual preferences, but it can’t remain a Jewish institution and lend its name to a gay students’ club. The difference between Modern Orthodox shuls and YU is that the former don’t take half millions of dollars from the federal government.

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