Yeshiva University on Friday abruptly halted the activities of all its undergraduate clubs while it considers how to respond to a U.S. Supreme Court order compelling the private New York school to recognize an LGBTQ student group.
In an email to students, Yeshiva officials said that in light of upcoming Jewish holidays the school would “hold off on all undergraduate club activities while it immediately takes steps to follow the roadmap provided by the US Supreme Court to protect YU’s religious freedom.”
The announcement came two days after a five-justice majority told Yeshiva that it must at least temporarily comply with a state judge’s order instructing it to recognize the Pride Alliance while it pursues a potential appeal in the case in the state court system.
The judge said the university was subject to the New York City Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Yeshiva University, which describes itself as the “world’s premier Torah-based institution of higher education,” argued that the ruling violated its religious beliefs and would interfere with its instruction in Torah values.
A lawyer for the students, Katie Rosenfeld, called the university’s decision to cancel club activities rather than accept the group “a throwback to 50 years ago when the city of Jackson, Miss., closed all public swimming pools rather than comply with court orders to desegregate.”
“The Pride Alliance seeks a safe space on campus, nothing more,” she said in an email Saturday. “By shutting down all club activities, the YU administration attempts to divide the student body, and pit students against their LGBT peers. We are confident that YU students will see through this shameful tactic and stand together in community.”
A representative from Yeshiva University did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday morning. (Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, when Orthodox Jews are forbidden from working.)
In a statement responding to the Supreme Court decision earlier in the week, university president Rabbi Ari Berman said Yeshiva would follow the court’s instructions and seek “expedited relief.”
“Every faith-based university in the country has the right to work with its students, including its LGBTQ students, to establish the clubs, places and spaces that fit within its faith tradition,” Berman said.
The school did not say in its announcement Friday what specific measures it would take to try to reverse the state court’s order that it must recognize the Pride Alliance.
In a June ruling, New York Supreme Court Judge Lynn Kotler (D) wrote that Yeshiva’s refusal to accommodate the group violated the city’s anti-discrimination law. She rejected arguments that Yeshiva was a religious corporation and therefore exempt under the law, finding instead that it was an educational institution “first and foremost.” The school was free to recognize the club without endorsing its mission, she said.
Kolter ordered the university to grant the Pride Alliance “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges afforded to all other student groups.”
Yeshiva asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene this month. It was represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm with a history of backing conservative institutions. The university called Kolter’s ruling an “unprecedented” violation of Yeshiva’s First Amendment rights.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor initially put a temporary hold on the New York judge’s ruling pending the Supreme Court’s review. In an unsigned order Wednesday, the majority reversed course, saying the university needed to pursue other legal options before the court would step in.
A dissent written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil M. Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett said it was “disappointing that a majority of this Court refuses to provide relief.” Alito wrote that the court would probably agree to hear the case if Yeshiva loses its appeal at the state level, adding that the university “would likely win if its case came before us.”
Robert Barnes contributed to this report.