New York City Comptroller Brad Lander issued a veiled threat to Yeshiva University this week over the school’s struggle to prevent the establishment of an LGBTQ student club on campus, despite the case still making its way through the courts.
YU is an Orthodox Jewish institution that trains men for the rabbinate, among its other degree programs, and the establishment of such a club would be a direct violation of the university’s Orthodox Jewish religious tenets.
The university announced in October 2022 it would establish the “Kol Yisrael Areivim”club for LGBTQ students “striving to live authentic Torah lives.” The university said the initiative, “grounded on Halacha and Torah values,” was an “approved traditional Orthodox alternative” to the YU Pride Alliance organization that hoped to establish a branch at the school.
But apparently, that wasn’t enough to satisfy the LGBTQ crowd.
“Your students are alleging that your current practices are discriminatory and in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law,” Lander wrote.
“Yeshiva University’s own anti-discrimination policy is wholly undermined by the refusal to allow students to form this group within their own terms and mission.
“Furthermore, I must remind you that all recipients of public funding from the City must attest that they are in compliance with City laws and statutes, including the New York City Human Rights Law. Our records show that Yeshiva University has received some $8.8 million in City funding since 2010.
“The University’s discriminatory actions may put future funding and associated services at risk,” he warned.
(The full text of the letter sent by Lander to YU President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman follows at the end of this article.)
Lander’s website as NYC Comptroller includes a page dedicated to “The LGBTQ Guide of Services and Resources” that includes listings of 72 different organizations and locations in the city providing services specifically geared to the LGBTQ community.
Last September, the Supreme Court rejected the university’s emergency request for a stay to stop a ruling by a lower court judge ordering the school to recognize the “YU Pride Alliance” LGBTQ student group.
At the time, the justices also wrote in their decision that YU can again turn to the Supreme Court if it is unable to obtain relief in the lower courts from the original ruling.
New York State Judge Lynn Kotler had previously ruled on June 14, 2022 that YU is bound by the New York City Human Rights Law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation because the school is not incorporated as a religious institution.
In December 2022, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court upheld the ruling by Judge Kotler. The following month, January 2023, Yeshiva University filed a motion with the State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division to grant it the right to appeal that decision.
Only after the appeals process is completely exhausted in the state courts can YU then return to the US Supreme Court to seek relief.
Following is the full text of the Comptroller’s letter to Yeshiva University’s President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman.
Dear Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman,
As the City’s chief accountability officer, I have been monitoring the situation surrounding your refusal to officially recognize the YU Pride Student Alliance, including the appellate court’s recent affirmance of the lower court’s denial of Yeshiva’s motion to dismiss. Your students are alleging that your current practices are discriminatory and in violation of the New York City’s Human Rights Law. I must urge your institution to change course and offer a secure environment for your LGBTQ+ students and staff to create a supportive space to rightfully express their full selves.
In the past, student-led organizations like the YU Pride Alliance have worked to educate members about their rights as LGBTQ+ people while also creating a safe space for all students. Yeshiva University’s own anti-discrimination policy is wholly undermined by the refusal to allow students to form this group within their own terms and mission.
Furthermore, I must remind you that all recipients of public funding from the City must attest that they are in compliance with City laws and statutes, including the New York City Human Rights Law. Our records show that Yeshiva University has received some $8.8 million in City funding since 2010. The University’s discriminatory actions may put future funding and associated services at risk. By recognizing the YU Pride Alliance, you can help ensure that the rights of LGTBQ+ students at Yeshiva University are respected, celebrated, and upheld in the City of New York.
I have confidence in your ability to make the right decision and welcome everyone in Yeshiva University including the LGBTQ+ members of your institution.
Brad Lander New York City Comptroller