“Why is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez telling Yeshiva University how to run its affairs?” asked Tal Fortgang in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Sunday. Good question. It turns out that back on September 23, AOC and five other House Democrats interfered rudely in YU’s affairs, telling the school’s President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman:
“We are disappointed with the University’s recent decision to suspend all student groups in order to avoid recognizing the YU Pride Alliance. This move pits students against each other and risks further isolating LGBTQ+ students at Yeshiva University. We also believe this action to be in tension with your recent statement that Yeshiva University’s ‘commitment and love for [its] LGBTQ students are unshakeable.’”
Here are the names of the six House Democrats: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Rep. Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Rep. Mondaire Jones (NY-17), and Rep. Paul D. Tonko (NY-20). They represent New York City, the Hudson Valley, and upstate New York. Maloney’s and Espaillat’s districts actually include YU’s Wilf and Beren Campuses, but, thank God, Maloney will be departing from Congress come January 2023, having been defeated in the primaries by Jerry Nadler.
Please don’t add your name to this letter, Congressman Nadler…
In 2020, a group of YU students calling itself the YU Pride Alliance asked the school to recognize their club. YU responded that having a club called “Pride Alliance” on campus would be consistent with Torah values. The Pride Alliance sued. The New York County Supreme Court denied Yeshiva University’s arguments and concluded that the school was not a “religious corporation” under city law and not protected by the US Constitution as such. The Court entered a permanent injunction ordering Yeshiva to “immediately” approve the club. YU appealed to the New York Appellate Division and the New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court), but both appeals were rejected on August 25, 2022. YU then filed an emergency request to the United States Supreme Court on August 29, 2022, requesting that the Court intervene to stay the violation of Yeshiva’s First Amendment rights pending appeal.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on September 9 issued an order allowing YU to disregard New York Supreme Court Judge Lynn Kotler’s ruling that it had to immediately recognize an LGBTQ student club. But on September 14, the Supreme Court ruled that YU must continue to recognize the LGBTQ club while the school argues its case against it in state court. Four justices in the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc dissented with the majority opinion, claiming that New York was ignoring the religious rights of YU.
Now, many of us have held differing views on this issue, which is not only about the right of YU students to assemble in whatever club they see fit, but of the school’s inherent obligation to sponsor a club promoting homosexual relationships with a budget intended for a Torah-inspired learning institution. But no matter what conclusion we have reached, we’ve balanced the school’s religious heritage with the students’ right to assemble.
The six Democrats did not include even a single paragraph dealing with the dilemma faced by the Orthodox Jewish school. It was all about the demands of those LGBTQ+ students and the urgent need for the school to meet them.
The six House Democrats also wrote Rabbi Berman:
Over the past weeks, we have followed the Supreme Court’s rulings affecting LGBTQ+ students at Yeshiva University who wish to form a peer support club, the YU Pride Alliance. Many of these students are our constituents.
We write to express our support for these students and for the rights of all LGBTQ+ students to equal treatment in New York State’s educational institutions. We urge the University to do everything possible to care for its LGBTQ+ students as full human beings in the campus community, including to recognize their student group.
We understand the LGBTQ+ students at Yeshiva University seek to form a student group that provides a safe space for discussion and connection. Research confirms that LGBTQ+ students face discrimination, isolation, higher rates of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and other challenges as they navigate their college years. Gay-straight alliances and student-led clubs that provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students to support each other and discuss issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity are critical to student health and success. Other proudly religious universities in New York have navigated this terrain, recognizing LGBTQ+ student groups as a critical resource for their students; it is time for Yeshiva University to do the same.
And they concluded:
As members of Congress representing New York, we believe that the equal treatment of LGBTQ+ students and the provision of safe spaces for their well-being are consistent with established federal public policy. We know our concerns for the well-being of LGBTQ+ students at Yeshiva University are shared by many who care deeply about the institution—Jewish clergy, University faculty, alumni, current students, and local elected officials.
We encourage the University to extend its hand to its LGBTQ+ students, and their allies, who have bravely come forward telling you what they need to flourish as students and community members at Yeshiva University.
And don’t bother us with your religious sentiments, we don’t need no stinking religious sentiments.