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Ruling requires Yeshiva University to recognize LGBTQ club

The school "will continue on appeal to defend against the claim that we are not a religious institution," said a spokesperson.

The Mendel Gottesman Library at Yeshiva University in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, New York. Image courtesy of Google Maps

(RNS) — Yeshiva University must recognize the YU Pride Alliance, a New York appeals court ruled Thursday. The ruling is the latest in the legal saga surrounding the Orthodox Jewish university, which has argued that recognizing the undergraduate LGBTQ student group would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

“Yeshiva is disappointed in the court’s ruling and will continue on appeal to defend against the claim that we are not a religious institution,” Hanan Eisenman, Yeshiva University spokesperson, said in an email to Religion News Service. The ruling does not mean the university will immediately recognize the club — Yeshiva and YU Pride Alliance previously agreed the school would not be forced to formally recognize the club until the case concludes. 

Katie Rosenfeld, attorney for the YU Pride Alliance, told RNS in an email that the group welcomes the ruling. “We hope that the University will accept the Pride Alliance’s invitation to resolve the lawsuit by finally recognizing an authentic, student-run, mutually acceptable LGBTQ+ undergraduate student club that operates like all other clubs at YU.”

The decision affirms the New York State Supreme Court’s June 2022 finding that the university isn’t technically a religious corporation. The school amended its charter in the 1960s to “clarify the corporate status of the University as a nondenominational institution of higher learning,” according to the latest ruling. Because of this, the court argues, Yeshiva University doesn’t qualify for religious exemptions from the New York City Human Rights Law, which bans discrimination in public accommodations.

“The Torah guides everything that we do at Yeshiva — from how we educate students to how we run our dining halls to how we organize our campus,” said Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University, in an August press release

“Turning to the defendants’ First Amendment arguments, we find that providing the Pride Alliance with full and equal access to public accommodations does not intrude on Yeshiva’s asserted right ‘to decide matters of faith and doctrine,’” the new ruling says. The court cited the university’s recognition of LGBTQ student groups at three of its graduate schools, noting the school had done so without endorsing the groups’ views.  

Four students representing the YU Pride Alliance initially sued the school for discrimination in April 2021. After the New York State Supreme Court decided in favor of the students in June 2022, the university appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeal was returned to the state court in September with a ruling that Yeshiva had to recognize the club for now, prompting the university to temporarily suspend all student groups rather than recognize the pride alliance. In response, YU Pride Alliance agreed not to force the school to formally recognize it as the case worked through the courts, saying they didn’t want the university to punish other students.

Since then, clubs have resumed, and the university announced the launch of an LGBTQ student group alternative, the Kol Yisrael Areivim Club. However, in November, Yeshiva’s student paper reported the new club doesn’t currently exist, and “student leaders were not involved in discussions with the university related to the club and were not informed of the university’s announcement in advance.”

Jewish Queer Youth (JQY), a Yeshiva University alumni-led nonprofit that supports LGBTQ Orthodox Jewish youth, has been funding the YU Pride Alliance as it seeks official university recognition.

“JQY was heartened by today’s decision and we urge Yeshiva University to consider this matter settled by the New York State Supreme Court. Each continued appeal takes an emotional toll on YU students and on queer Orthodox youth beyond the walls of the university,” JQY Executive Director Rachael Fried said in a statement.

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