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Justice Sotomayor, for now, stops lower court ruling for LGBTQ group

Yeshiva University, a religious school in New York, asked the justices to intervene after a state court said it must provide the group with access to certain facilities

The Supreme Court building in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Friday put on hold a lower court’s order requiring Yeshiva University in New York to recognize an LGBTQ student club while legal fights continue about the group’s efforts at the religious school.

A New York state trial court ruled that as a public accommodation, Yeshiva was covered under the New York City Human Rights Law and required to provide the Pride Alliance the same access to facilities as dozens of other student groups. The group said that means access to a classroom, bulletin boards and a club fair booth.

Sotomayor’s short order stayed that ruling “pending further order of the undersigned or of the Court.” That indicated that there might be more to come and that the court was acting now because of a deadline. Sotomayor is the justice who reviews emergency applications from the New York region, although such requests usually are referred to the entire court.

Appellate courts in the state have not yet considered Yeshiva’s appeal but denied the university’s emergency request to not comply with the lower court decision.

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In a filing asking the Supreme Court to step in, the university said that “as a deeply religious Jewish university, Yeshiva cannot comply with that order because doing so would violate its sincere religious beliefs about how to form its undergraduate students in Torah values.”

The school is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which called the lower court ruling an “unprecedented” violation of the university’s First Amendment rights.

The student group said the lower court’s decision was a straightforward interpretation of state law. It said the Supreme Court’s intervention was unwarranted, especially before New York’s own appellate courts have had the chance to weigh in.

“This ruling does not touch the University’s well-established right to express to all students its sincerely held beliefs about Torah values and sexual orientation,” the group said in its filing at the Supreme Court. At the same time, the filing adds, “it may not deny certain students access to the non-religious resources it offers the entire student community on the basis of sexual orientation.”

The school does not require its officers or professors to be Jewish and it enrolls 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students of all religious backgrounds, the group said. Its affiliated Cardozo Law School has had an official gay students group for years.