Yeshiva University must justify refusing to recognize LGBTQ student club

NEW YORK – New York state officials said Wednesday that Yeshiva University (YU) misrepresented its status as a secular institution to obtain public funds, the latest in the university’s long and bitter legal saga over the recognition of a group. LGBTQ students.

The Modern Orthodox Movement’s flagship university has always refused to recognize the undergraduate club and has taken measures such as temporarily closing all student clubs and creating its own “Torah-based” religious club for LGBTQ students. Get to know the YU Pride Alliance.

The legal dispute centers on whether the university is a secular institution that must abide by nondiscrimination laws or a religious institution covered by First Amendment protections for the free expression of beliefs.

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In a letter to university president Ari Berman, three New York state senators said the school’s position to secure more than $230 million in state funding contradicts itself.

“We are concerned about Yeshiva University’s discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ students while receiving state funding,” the letter reads. “YU’s discriminatory behavior is completely inconsistent with the goals of state funding, which is to promote maximum participation of all students in public educational opportunities. »

The university said in court that it is not required to recognize the YU Pride Alliance because it is a “religious society.” However, MPs wrote that he claimed to be a “non-sectarian, non-profit higher education institution” to receive funds from the state.

The 2009 and 2011 grants were awarded by the New York State Housing Authority, a state agency that provides services to universities and other institutions. The university used the funds to finance construction and renovation projects.

The letter of the MPs states that the university has stated that it will comply with the loan conditions of the state agency in the contracts it has signed with the institution. It stipulates that projects receiving funding must not be used for sectarian religious purposes or for worship.

Rabbi Ari Berman at his inauguration as president of Yeshiva University, September 10, 2017. (Courtesy)

“Yeshiva University’s discriminatory behavior and alleged status contradicts the statements made by the university to obtain public funds. If this happens, the university will not use these funds for purposes approved by the state,” the letter says.

In the letter, YU is asked to “account” for the use of funds within 30 days. The potential implications for the university are unclear.

He released information about the letter New York Times and signed by New York State Senators, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Hoylman, Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger, and Senate Education Committee Chair Toby Ann Stavisky.

“We will not tolerate public funds being used to support discriminatory behavior that denies LGBTQ students the right to an equal education. We call on Yeshiva University to immediately reverse course and end its anti-LGBT policies,” they said.

A spokesperson for the university said in response to the letter that the United States Supreme Court has ruled in recent years that the government cannot limit funding to religious schools based on their beliefs. The university has already announced its intention to take the case to the country’s highest court.

“The First Amendment allows us to provide world-class vocational education alongside and within the context of intensive religious education. Yeshiva has always welcomed LGBTQ students,” the university said. Yeshiva will continue to defend the right of its students to be treated by the state on an equal footing with students at all other universities. Students come to Yeshiva because of their commitment to Torah values. They choose the best way to live these values. »

The university flatly refused to recognize the undergraduate Pride group and took measures to de-recognize the Pride group, including temporarily closing all student clubs and creating its own “Torah-based” LGBTQ club, the Yu Pride Alliance.

Recognition will provide the association with funding and other benefits distributed to other student clubs.

YU tried to avoid not recognizing the YU Pride Alliance with its rhetorical welcoming of LGBTQ students. The battle comes as Orthodox communities grapple with how to welcome people from the LGBTQ community. Orthodox Jewish law prohibits same-sex intercourse and same-sex marriage – or halakhah.

A poster advertising an LGBTQ event at Yeshiva University, December 15, 2020. (Credit: Yeshiva University student organizers)

The Manhattan Court of Appeals ruled last month that the university should formally recognize the YU Pride Alliance, upholding an earlier ruling that the university could not have a religious exemption from anti-discrimination laws that prohibit bias based on sexual orientation, among other characteristics.

The court also rejected the university’s argument that it did not have to recognize the club because of First Amendment protections for free expression of beliefs, noting that three university campuses already recognize LGBTQ groups.

Yeshiva University said it will continue to appeal the decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court expressed interest in the case after the university’s request, stating that YU can hear the case if it has exhausted state remedies. The university has at least one other avenue of appeal in New York and said it is considering appealing again to the nation’s highest court.

The Supreme Court stayed the case on procedural grounds, not on larger religious issues. Conservatives (Judges) said the university would likely win the case, and the university said it would appeal again to the highest court.

The legal battle between YU and the Pride group began in 2020 when LGBTQ student activists filed a complaint with the city’s human rights commission accusing the university of discrimination before filing a lawsuit against the university last year.

In June, a New York judge ruled that the university must recognize the union under a municipal human rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In a related case, a university-affiliated synagogue expelled a transgender woman last month.

Talia Avrahami with her husband and daughter. (courtesy)

Talia Avrahami and her family were kicked out of the YU-affiliated Manhattan Orthodox Schenck Shul late last year after a workplace dispute over Avrahami’s identity.

According to the YU website, the Shenk Shul receives services and support from the university and is housed in a university-specific building.

Avrahami said the synagogue invited him to leave in mid-November. He later stopped going there, hoping for a peaceful solution. It was in this sense that he organized a meeting with the leaders of the university at the end of last month. This meeting did not go well and he decided to cut ties with the synagogue.

Shenk disputed Shul Avrahamin’s version. “We have talked with Avrahami several times and we understand their concerns. »

The synagogue denied that Avrahami and his family had been asked to leave, but did not respond to requests for further information. Avrahami said the synagogue “can’t accommodate him and his family.”

YU referred a request for comment to the Shenk Shul without specifying whether transgender people could not attend services at synagogues and university-affiliated prayer groups.

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