The New York County Supreme Court ruled that New York’s Yeshiva University is required to grant recognition to its LGBTQ club, the YU Pride Alliance.
Judge Lynn Kotler ruled on Tuesday that YU, as a non-religious organization, is subject to the New York City Human Rights Law and directed it to “immediately grant plaintiff YU Pride Alliance the full equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges afforded to all other student groups at Yeshiva University.” In the decision, the judge determined that “Yeshiva University is not a ‘religious corporation,’” and therefore cannot ban a certain group because of the Jewish faith.
YU must "immediately grant plaintiff YU Pride Alliance the full equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges afforded to all other student groups at Yeshiva University."Judge Lynn Kotler
In addition, she ordered that defendants, Yeshiva University and President Ari Berman, be “permanently restrained from continuing their refusal to officially recognize the YU Pride Alliance as a student organization because of the members’ sexual orientation or gender and/or YU Pride Alliance’s status, mission, and/or activities on behalf of LGBTQ students.”
Yeshiva University's argument
"The court’s ruling violates the religious liberty upon which this country was founded. The decision permits courts to interfere in the internal affairs of religious schools, hospitals, and other charitable organizations. Any ruling that Yeshiva is not religious is obviously wrong," YU said in response to the ruling.
In 2020, YU wrote a paper titled Fostering an Inclusive Community on the issue of LGBTQ people in its institution. “Yeshiva University is wholly committed to and guided by Halacha [Jewish law] and Torah values,” the paper began. “These direct our every effort in establishing a caring campus community that is supportive of all its members.”
In the document, YU said that a team of administrators, psychologists and rabbis spent four months meeting with individual students and alumni, in order to learn more about these issues and how the students experience them.
The institution announced the steps it would take to address them. There would be “increased support for students who have raised concerns regarding sexual orientation and gender identity,” and training for staff would be updated to include a brief on sexual orientation, “ensuring that there is a clinician on staff with specific LGBTQ+ experience” and appointing a point person to oversee a “Warm Line” available for students.
According to YU’s independent student newspaper The Commentator, YU will appeal the decision. “While we love and care for our students, who are all – each and every one – created in God’s image, we firmly disagree with today’s ruling and will immediately appeal the decision,” a YU spokesperson told The Commentator.
Why sue in the first place? LGBTQ discrimination
“Yeshiva University will be a safer place,” wrote Molly Meisels, one of the plaintiffs, on their Instagram. Meisels, three other YU students and the YU Pride Alliance sued the school in April 2021 after a number of failed attempts to form the club.
In April, the university’s official student newspaper reported that the YU Pride Alliance, a student and three alumni announced an LGBTQ discrimination lawsuit against the university, Berman and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Dr. Chaim Nissel at a virtual press conference.
“Since 2019... our club applications have been repeatedly rejected, and so we are grateful that the court has affirmed our legal right to equal accommodations and the right to the same opportunities afforded to every other club at YU,” reads a statement from the YU Pride Alliance.
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According to the newspaper, their case stated that “YU illegally discriminated against them when the university thrice rejected their proposal for an official LGBTQ club in 2019 and 2020.”
In their complaint, the group of students and alumni stated that “YU’s refusal to officially recognize the club deprives Plaintiff the YU Pride Alliance and its members of the important benefits enjoyed by YU’s 116 other recognized student organizations.” The students said that they were not allowed to use campus facilities for meetings, adding that “the [YU Pride] Alliance must meet off-campus” because they were allegedly forbidden to convene on campus.
In addition, the Alliance had to “fundraise outside the university for its own events, speakers and snacks.”
“It’s been a long and hard battle fighting with YU,” wrote Beth Weiss, who was on the founding board of the Pride Alliance and was the public face of the club for a semester while they were on campus. “As a closeted undergrad, I got involved in the cause.”
Established in 1886, YU is a private university with four campuses in New York City. Inspired by modern and centrist Orthodox Judaism, it also has a yeshiva and Judaic studies programs. The motto of the university is “Torah U’mada” (Torah and secular knowledge). Even though most of the university’s students are Jewish, they don’t all subscribe to the Jewish faith.
The Jerusalem Post hasn’t received any response from YU.