Yeshiva University in New York City asked the Supreme Court on Monday in an emergency filing to block a court order forcing the Orthodox Jewish university to officially recognize an LGBTQ club on campus.
Renowned attorney Nathan Lewin, who has argued many times before the Supreme Court, says Yeshiva is “entirely right” to fight that court order, which he said violates the First Amendment.
In an email exchange with JewishPress.com, Lewin said, “Yeshiva is entirely right in its constitutional claim that the New York courts violate the First Amendment by invoking a state law prohibiting gender discrimination to order Yeshiva to grant formal recognition as a student club to the Pride Alliance organization.”
In YU Pride Alliance v. Yeshiva University, a small group of students is demanding that the University officially recognize an LGBTQ Pride Alliance club on campus.
The lower court rulings would force Yeshiva to put its stamp of approval on a club and activities that are inconsistent with the school’s Torah values and the religious environment it seeks to maintain on its undergraduate campuses.
“The Torah guides everything that we do at Yeshiva — from how we educate students to how we run our dining halls to how we organize our campus,” said Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University.
”We care deeply for and welcome all our students, including our LGBTQ students, and 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 campus environment. We only ask the government to allow us the freedom to apply the Torah in accordance with our values.”
Yeshiva said in its emergency application to the Supreme Court that it has taken steps within a Torah framework to support its LGBTQ students, prohibiting harassment or discrimination and updating its diversity, inclusion and sensitivity training to reflect the students’ concerns.
“Not only is the court order contrary to the First Amendment’s Free Exercise of Religion Clause, but it is also void under Supreme Court decisions governing First Amendment protections for speech and association,” Lewin says.
The school maintains that recognition of the so-called “YU Price Alliance” Club would directly contradict its religious beliefs. The club advocates for gay rights and would host events such as school-sponsored LGBTQ “Shabbatons” and other LGBTQ-themed events.
Yeshiva University, a 136-year-old Jewish institution, was founded initially to prepare students for the rabbinate. The nation’s oldest Jewish university, Yeshiva has been fighting in New York State courts for more than a year over this issue.
The Becket Fund is a nonprofit, public interest legal and educational institute that works to protect the religious rights of those who are caught at the crossroads between church and state.
“When secular authorities try to tell Yeshiva University that it is not religious, you know something has gone terribly wrong,” said Eric Baxter, VP and senior counsel at Becket, as well as lead counsel on the case.
“The First Amendment protects Yeshiva’s right to practice its faith. We are asking the Supreme Court to correct this obvious error,” he said.
“The emergency nature of the Becket Fund’s extraordinary request for Supreme Court review leaves little time for extensive briefing,” Lewin comments.
It is not yet clear if or when the Court could respond to the application, since it is still out on its summer recess and not expected to begin oral arguments for its next term until Oct. 3.
“The National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (“COLPA”), which has filed scores of friend-of-the-court briefs in the Supreme Court, will submit a brief this week supporting Yeshiva’s Supreme Court application,” Lewin says.
“The brief should be endorsed by major national American Jewish Orthodox organizations,” he adds.