Paul L. Caron

Sunday, June 19, 2022

NY Times: State Judge Rules Yeshiva University Must Recognize LGBTQ Student Club

New York Times, Yeshiva University Must Recognize L.G.B.T.Q. Club, Judge Says:

YU Pride AllianceStudents at Yeshiva University in New York have tried for years to get their school to recognize an L.G.B.T.Q. student club, pushing back on the administration’s argument that its status as a Modern Orthodox Jewish school exempted it from the city’s human rights law.

Last year, a group of students and alumni filed a lawsuit, and on Tuesday a state judge ruled in their favor, declaring that Yeshiva is not a religious institution and so must follow the law and recognize the club [YU Pride Alliance v. Yeshiva University].

Bina Davidson, who had been the co-president of the Y.U. Pride Alliance until she graduated in January, said she and other students were thrilled about the ruling. But their victory may be short lived.

Administrators at Yeshiva, which is named after a type of traditional Jewish religious school that is found all over the world, vowed to appeal. They also said they would ask the courts to stay the decision.

“Any ruling that Yeshiva is not religious is obviously wrong,” said Hanan Eisenman, a university spokesman, in a statement. “As our name indicates, Yeshiva University was founded to instill Torah values in its students while providing a stellar education, allowing them to live with religious conviction as noble citizens and committed Jews.”

The court’s decision, he said, “violates the religious liberty upon which this country was founded” and “permits courts to interfere in the internal affairs of religious schools, hospitals and other charitable organizations.” (While many non-Orthodox Jewish congregations are supportive of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, Orthodox leaders tend to interpret the Torah as promoting more traditional ideas of gender and sexuality.)

The dispute at Yeshiva is the latest front in a heated nationwide debate over the limits of religious freedom and whether houses of worship, religiously affiliated companies and organizations or even pious individuals can be compelled to provide employment or other public accommodations to people with differing views. ...

In her ruling on Tuesday, Justice Lynn Kotler of State Supreme Court in Manhattan said the case was simple: Yeshiva’s own charter made it clear that the school was not a religious corporation.

She cited two amendments the school adopted to its charter in 1967 that declared it to be “an educational corporation under the education law of the State of New York” that was “organized and operated exclusively for educational purposes.” If the school wanted to declare itself to be a religious corporation, it could have done so, she wrote. But it did not. ...

Yeshiva was represented in the lawsuit by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a high-profile public-interest legal and education firm based in Washington, D.C.

Eric Baxter, the vice president of the Becket Fund and the lead attorney on the case, said the judge’s semantic analysis had led to an “obviously mistaken” ruling that missed the forest for the trees.

“Courts don’t get to quibble over whether you said enough in your article of incorporation about your religious character,” Mr. Baxter said. “That is contrary to clearly established case law that says courts don’t get to second-guess a religious institution’s religious activities when its religious characteristics are plain and obvious.”

He added: “There are few religious institutions of higher education that are more religious than Yeshiva.” ...

“Nobody goes to Yeshiva University thinking they are getting a strictly secular education, and courts cannot get into the business of saying, ‘Well this isn’t religious education, this is secular education,’” Mr. Baxter said.

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