YU Must Allow LGBTQ Club to Form on Campus, Court Rules
Yeshiva University is legally required to grant the YU Pride Alliance official club status, a judge ruled Tuesday, June 14 in a landmark case that began April 2021. YU will appeal the decision, the university told The Commentator in a statement.
Judge Lynn Kotler of the New York County Supreme Court ruled that YU is a non-religious organization subject to the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), 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."
“The court’s ruling violates the religious liberty upon which this country was founded,” a YU spokesperson told The Commentator. “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. As our name indicates, Yeshiva University was founded to instill Torah values in its students while providing a stellar education, allowing them to live with religious conviction as noble citizens and committed Jews. 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.”
In April 2021, the YU Pride Alliance, along with a group of former and current students, sued the university for discrimination. They alleged that YU violated its anti-discrimination policies and the NYCHRL, and requested the court order the university to recognize it. This came after years of the alliance trying to gain recognition as a club through YU’s formal club approval process and the administration refusing to grant them recognition multiple times.
In court, YU argued that its non-sectarian status, which it received in 1970, was based on its non-discriminatory practices in its admissions process, not on its administrative decisions. YU further added that despite not being a “religious corporation,” its internal processes were guided by its religious beliefs and it therefore functioned as a religious entity, exempting it from NYCHRL regulations.
Students’ efforts to gain recognition for an LGBTQ club began in Feb. 2019, then under the name Gay-Straight Alliance. Following the university overruling their club approval, the students behind the effort restructured themselves as the “YU Pride Alliance” in Jan. 2020, hoping to gain approval by avoiding using LGBTQ terms in its name.
That effort failed as well, with student council presidents abstaining from approving the club and deferring to the administration, who refused to grant the club recognition. In Sept. 2020, the administration released a statement announcing new LGBTQ inclusivity policies, but maintained that the club would not be recognized at YU since it would cloud the Torah’s “nuanced message.”
In April 2021, after multiple failed attempts at gaining recognition, the YU Pride Alliance, Molly Meisels (SCW ‘21), Amitai Miller (YC ‘20), Doniel Weinreich (YC ‘20) and an anonymous student sued YU, President Ari Berman and then Vice Provost for Student Affairs Chaim Nissel for LGBTQ discrimination.
In her ruling, Kotler rejected YU’s assertion that it is a religious institution, citing numerous pieces of evidence that “do not expressly indicate that Yeshiva has a religious purpose.”
YU amended its charter in 1967, which previously stated that its religious purpose was “to promote the study of Talmud.” In the amended charter, YU wrote that it “is and continues to be organized and operated exclusively for educational purposes.” Kotler rejected YU’s contention that the original charter’s “religious educational purpose carries through.”
In 1995, YU’s then Director of Public Relations David M. Rosen, in response to an inquiry about “gay groups on campus,” wrote that “Yeshiva University is subject to the human rights ordinance of the City of New York, which provides protected status to homosexuals. Under this law, YU cannot ban gay student clubs.” YU’s attorney argued that YU would be willing to add “a more direct statement of religious purpose.” Kotler ruled that YU’s attorney’s words, along with Rosen’s statement, conceded the point that YU is an educational institution bound by the Human Rights Law.
In a 2021 letter to State Senator Robert Jackson, Jon Greenfield, director of government relations at YU, indicated that YU is a “not-for-profit institution of higher learning.” Kotler argued that YU represents itself as an educational institution, not a religious corporation, declaring that “Yeshiva is either a religious corporation in all manners or it is not.”
Plaintiffs contacted by The Commentator did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Ariel Kahan and Rivka Bennun contributed to this story
Editor's Note: This article was updated on June 15 to reflect that Yeshiva University’s charter states that it “continues to be organized and operated exclusively for educational purposes.” A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that it was “for religious purposes.”
Photo Credit: The Commentator