NY State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-27) on Wednesday released an announcement saying “State Senator Brad Hoylman, Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger, and Senate Higher Education Chair Toby Ann Stavisky sent a letter to Yeshiva University President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman condemning the discriminatory treatment of their LGBTQ students and demanding an accounting of public funds that appear to have been obtained by misrepresentations from YU. The university has been sued by the YU Pride Alliance for violating the New York City Human Rights Law by refusing to recognize the club.”
Hoylman told the NY Times on Wednesday: “I think this matter is worthy of investigation and a potential criminal inquiry, based on what we know from their own court testimony. There is the potential that Yeshiva has misrepresented its mission and that could constitute fraud.”
Not to worry, folks, we’re likely not going to be treated to pictures of YU rabbis being hauled in cuffs into waiting police vans. It’s a stunt – but one that has the potential of creating additional bad press for YU over their struggle to prevent undergraduate gay students from forming a school-sponsored club, a practice that’s been in place in many of YU’s graduate facilities.
I’ve been reminding you periodically that the late Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik Ztz’l, the profound spiritual leader of YU, was adamant in his opposition to designating the religious Jewish university as a non-sectarian institution in 1970, which qualified the institution to receive state funds. Rabbi Soloveitchik warned that its new, non-sectarian designation, would leave YU with “only a limited right to formulate rules” that comply with Jewish law.
Brad Hoylman was born in West Virginia in 1965 and grew up in rural Lewisburg, West Virginia, the youngest of six children. Hoylman, who these days identifies as Jewish, married David Ivan Sigal at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, in 2013. They live with their two daughters, Silvia and Lucy, in Greenwich Village, not far from YU’s Cardozo Law School, where an LGBTQ club ceased to be big news 20 years ago.
On December 15, 2022, a New York State appeals court compelled YU to formally recognize its undergraduate LGBTQ student group, rejecting the school’s claims that this would violate its religious rights and values, since a court had decided that YU is not a religious institution, seeing as it was taking all this state money.
How much money? $230 million, according to Sen. Hoylman. His letter to Rabbi Berman highlighted “misleading statements the university made to the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York to obtain state financial assistance assuring it that YU was a ‘nonsectarian, not-for-profit institution of higher education,’ and agreed that the public funds would not be ‘used for sectarian religious instruction or as a place of religious worship or in connection with any part of a program of a school or department of divinity for any religious denomination.’”
“In contrast, YU has argued to the courts that it is exempt from the Human Rights Law because it is a ‘religious corporation,’” Hoylman wrote Berman.
YU issued the following response:
“An article has appeared in the New York Times with allegations regarding YU’s use of state funding that are both wrong and offensive. When our community is attacked and misrepresented in this way, it is important to be clear that there is absolutely no validity or legitimate legal claim to the assertions about YU in this story. See below for our statement on this matter:
“Yeshiva University is the nation’s flagship Jewish university, deeply rooted in our Torah and our tradition. The First Amendment allows us to provide a world-class academic and professional education in the context of, and alongside, an intense religious education.
“In the last five years, including this past summer in Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court has three times ruled that the government may not restrict funding to religious schools because of their free exercise. And no government can ever retaliate against anyone for defending their religious beliefs in court. Yeshiva will continue to defend its right to religious liberty while ensuring the right of its students to be treated by the state on an equal footing with students at every other university.
“The allegations of discrimination are equally false and offensive. Our students, including our LGBTQ students, come to Yeshiva because of our commitment to Torah values. In keeping with our commitment to our students, YU last year announced the framework for the Kol Yisrael Areivim club for our undergraduate students who identify as LGBTQ and are striving to live authentic Torah lives. Our Office of Student Life is working together with our students on the activities of this club.”
Carson v. Makin, 2022, was a US Supreme Court case related to the First Amendment and the Free Exercise Clause. It was a follow-up to Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, 2020, a landmark Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that a state-based scholarship program for private schools cannot discriminate against religious schools.
Carson v. Makin centered on the limits of school vouchers offered by the state of Maine, which had disallowed vouchers for religious-based private schools. In a 6–3 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that Maine’s restrictions on vouchers violated the Free Exercise Clause (just like Espinoza v. Montana) because they discriminated against religious-backed private schools. The minority opinions cited the separation of church and state, which the current 6-3 right-wing court wasn’t impressed by.