Judge Lynn Kotler of the New York County Supreme Court ruled that YU is not an exclusively non-religious organization, and as such, subject to the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).
Following that, Kotler ordered the school whose roots go back to the Etz Chaim Yeshiva founded in 1886 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to “immediately grant plaintiff YU Pride Alliance the full equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges afforded to all other student groups at Yeshiva University.”
A YU spokesperson told The YU Commentator that “the court’s ruling violates the religious liberty upon which this country was founded,” adding, “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,” the spokesperson argued.
On April 26, 2021, the YU Pride Alliance, alumni Molly Meisels, Amitai Miller, and Doniel Weinreich, along with an anonymous student, launched an LGBTQ discrimination lawsuit against the school, its president, Rabbi Ari Berman, and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Dr. Chaim Nissel. The lawsuit alleged that YU had violated its own non-discrimination policies and New York City Human Rights Law. Plaintiffs argued that YU itself had long ago classified itself as a non-sectarian academic institution to collect millions in New York State funds and benefits.
Forty-eight associate deans and professors of YU’s own law school, Cardozo Law, in downtown Manhattan, signed an email to Rabbi Berman pleading with him to acquiesce to the demands of the LGBTQ students and their supporters.
The 48 law professors wrote: “Discrimination against a student organization solely because of its focus on LGBTQ+ issues has no place in a University that holds itself out as a community committed to the flourishing and equal dignity of all its members. We have a collective obligation to ensure that each student is supported and given the opportunity to thrive, and refusing to extend access to University facilities to this student group on the same terms all other student groups enjoy will prevent LGBTQ+ students, together with their allies, from creating the space to find that support. Particularly as our students grapple already with the effects of a catastrophic public health crisis and deepening racial divide, insisting that LGBTQ+ students bear this avoidable additional insult is hard to fathom.”
They added: “Indeed, at Cardozo, where LGBTQ+ students are a vital part of our community, with an active and engaged student group, no such discrimination is practiced or tolerated. We find it unacceptable that our parent University would adopt such a hurtful policy towards the undergraduate student body.”
What the good Cardozo Law professors failed to mention was just how many years the gay students at Cardozo had fought and been rejected in their attempts to form a gay club.
Plaintiff Molly Meisels told The Commentator back then: “I want Yeshiva University students, faculty, staff, and administrators to know that I am partaking in this case out of love for the university. The institution has so much potential to be a safe, loving, and supportive environment for queer students and allies. This potential has yet to be realized. Hopefully, this case will provide queer students with the club they deserve.”
YU responded to the lawsuit by citing its Torah Umadda mission which emphasizes Torah values. It also pointed out the daily religious services being conducted on its undergraduate campuses. Finally, regarding its “non-sectarian” status, YU argued that it is only used in its admissions policy which does not discriminate against non-Jewish applicants.
In 1970, Rav Soloveitchik called on Yeshiva University to reverse itself regarding its “non-sectarian” trend. The Rav was worried that the school might not be able to enforce religious observance in the dorms, or require the students to attend one of the University’s religious divisions.
One can only hope that YU will appeal Judge Kotler’s unfriendly ruling (to use polite language) all the way up to the Supreme Court, where it stands a good chance to win, thanks to President Trump’s three appointments.