Yeshiva University does not have to recognize LGBTQ student body for now, Sotomayor rules

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The order from Sotomayor — who has jurisdiction over the lower court in the case — indicated that the full Supreme Court is still considering the issue and will issue a more permanent ruling at a later date.

For now, the university is temporarily shielded from having to recognize the group.

The case is complicated by threshold issues — such as the fact that New York State appeals courts have yet to rule on the case’s merits — which could slow the court’s deliberations.

Former and current students at the university brought the original challenge, arguing that the school’s stance violated a New York public accommodation law that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The case is the latest dispute over religious freedom to come before the Supreme Court.

Last term, the court’s conservative majority ruled in favor of religious conservatives in two separate disputes, and in 2021 the court sided with a Catholic foster care agency that refused to consider same-sex couples as potential foster parents.

Justice Samuel Alito has repeatedly called for greater protections for the free exercise of religion, including during a July speech in Rome. “Religious freedom is under attack in many places,” Alito said.

Yeshiva lost at the lower court level when a trial judge focused on whether the university qualified as a religious corporation under New York City’s Civil Rights Act, a public accommodation ordinance that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation. The law expressly excludes certain religious societies, and the Yeshiva argued that it fell within the exception.

However, the court noted that under an amendment to the school’s charter passed in 1967, the university is considered an “educational corporation.”

“The Yeshiva’s organizing documents do not expressly indicate that the Yeshiva has a religious purpose,” Judge Lynn R. Kotler said in ruling that the Yeshiva is not exempt from the law.

The court also rejected the school’s claims that the NYCHRL violates the Yeshiva’s First Amendment Rights, holding that the Public Accommodations Act is a neutral law with general application to all parties.

“It is not directed at religious practice, its purpose is only to deter discrimination, and it applies equally to all places of public accommodation, except those expressly exempted as distinctly private or a religious society organized under educational or religious law,” Kotler wrote.

The judge said the challengers were seeking “equal access” and that the school “doesn’t have to make a statement supporting a particular point of view.” Kotler also noted that some of Yeshiva’s graduate schools allow LGBTQ groups, undercutting the university’s arguments.

In court papers filed with the Supreme Court, the school argued that the lower court opinion represents an “unprecedented intrusion into Yeshiva’s church autonomy” and claims that as “a deeply religious Jewish university, Yeshiva cannot comply with this order because it would violate its sincere religious beliefs on how to form one’s undergraduate students in Torah values.”

Attorneys for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Yeshiva, said the lower court’s ruling is an “unprecedented” intrusion into the university’s religious beliefs and a clear violation of the Yeshiva’s First Amendment rights.

A lawyer for the current and former students behind the challenge, who won in the lower court, argued that it was too early for the Supreme Court to step in because New York’s appeals courts have not yet ruled on the merits and the issue of state law has not been fully resolved solved.

“Not only are applicants skipping the entire state appeals process, but they are also pushing the court to address both new and weighty First Amendment issues on a rocket application without the benefit of full briefing or oral argument,” attorney Katherine Rosenfeld told the justices in the court. papers.

Rosenfeld said the lower court ruling “simply requires” the university to give the “Pride Alliance” access to the same facilities and benefits as its “87 other recognized student groups.”

“This ruling does not affect the university’s well-established right to express to all students its sincere beliefs about Torah values ​​and sexual orientation,” Rosenfeld said.

Jillian Weinberg, a student at Yeshiva’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, told CNN in an interview that Ferkauf recognizes LGBTQ groups, even though Yeshiva’s undergraduate school does not.

She said Ferkauf’s faculty and students “are concerned about the harm that President Ari Berman’s actions will cause to the mental health and well-being of LGBTQIA+ students and faculty.”

The New York Court of Appeals has agreed to hear an appeal of the ruling this fall, but refused to stay the court’s ruling, prompting school officials to petition the high court.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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