YU Defends Decision to Reject LGBTQ Club and Receive Government Funding in New Court Documents
Yeshiva University is defending its decision to refuse official club status to the Pride Alliance — an unofficial, undergraduate LGBTQ club — while retaining its nonsectarian status, which allows it to receive government funding, in new court documents filed Friday, May 28.
Back in April, the Pride Alliance, several YU alumni and an anonymous student sued YU, President Ari Berman and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Chaim Nissel for discrimination under New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) for rejecting the Pride Alliance as an official student club. They argued that, as a nonsectarian institution, YU is bound by NYCHRL and must approve the club or lose their funding.
The university is now arguing that an institution’s nonsectarian status is solely determined through its admissions of students — meaning that it does not discriminate in admitting students. YU adds that, while not being a “religious corporation,” it has always functioned as a religious entity, which exempts it from following NYCHRL that prohibits discrimination.
Referencing its Torah Umadda mission, emphasis on “Torah values” and presence of religious services on undergraduate campuses, YU tried to demonstrate the “religious character” of its undergraduate programs in its argument to the court. Any government involvement in the university’s decision with this club, YU says, would be an infringement on its right to freedom of religion and would be “unconstitutional.”
YU explained that it is “wholly committed and guided by Halacha and Torah values,” which is why it rejected other student clubs in the past, such as a Jewish AEPi fraternity and a gambling club, because they appeared not “consistent with Torah values.” After conferring with roshei yeshiva about the Pride Alliance, YU said that it could not give approval to the club for the same reason. Additionally, the university said that because it allowed LGBTQ events on campus, in addition to introducing LGBTQ-inclusive policies in September 2020, the Pride Alliance is not necessary.
“Plaintiffs want [YU] to ‘make a statement,’” YU said in these new documents, quoting Molly Meisels (SCW ‘21), one of the plaintiffs, from her interview with The Forward. YU explained that the plaintiffs “hope that ‘an establishment of a club really could change things’ at [YU], including changing the ‘people who are against the movement in the student body.’”
YU also believes that the plaintiffs’ suit is misguided because they “cannot claim any legal injury” due to the club’s denial, reasoning that there “cannot be irreparable harm when Plaintiffs do not even have a claim to vindicate.” It also disputed that the alumni and student experienced any “irreparable harm” to begin with.
For their defense, YU, Berman and Nissel are being represented by attorneys Brian Sher, Samantha Montrose and Kenneth Abeyratne from Kaufman Borgeest & Ryan LLP. Sher is awaiting a response from the court for his request that YU be allowed the assistance of attorneys Willaim Haun and Eric Baxter of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — a non-profit, legal and educational institute focused on preserving religious liberties.
When YU was first founded in 1897 as “The Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary Association,” it was a sectarian institution that did not receive government funding. Nearly 50 years later in 1945, YU officially changed its corporate name to “Yeshiva University,” still remaining a sectarian institution. In 1970, however, YU separated from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, which still remained a sectarian institution, and amended its charter to become nonsectarian in order to receive government funds.
“Yeshiva University cares deeply for and welcomes all of our students including our LGBTQ students,” YU said in a statement sent to The Commentator. “We continue to be engaged in a productive dialogue with our Rabbis, faculty and students on how we apply our Torah values to create an inclusive undergraduate campus environment.”
The university’s statement concluded, “Ultimately, however, the central question this case presents is who is the ultimate arbiter of how Yeshiva University’s religious values are applied on campus. On matters of religious belief the law is clear, Yeshiva University should be free to apply the multi-millennial Torah tradition we represent and hold sacred without government interference.”
Katherine Rosenfeld, who is the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Commentator that she will be filing a response to YU’s memorandum with the court on June 7.
Photo Caption: LGBTQ march in September 2019
Photo Credit: The YU Pride Alliance