By JNS Reporter

People walk by the campus of Yeshiva University in New York City on August 30, 2022, in New York City. Yeshiva University on Monday filed an emergency request with the Supreme Court asking it to block a judge’s order that requires the university to recognize an LGBTQ+ student group. The religious and Jewish university stated in court papers that “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.” SPENCER PLATT/JNS

Three New York state senators sent a letter on Wednesday to the president of Yeshiva University suggesting that the administration misrepresented the institution as being secular when it secured government funding of some $230 million, even as the school engages in a legal battle over its unwillingness to recognize an LGBTQ student body on grounds that doing so would infringe upon its rights as a “religious corporation.”

“As members of the New York State Senate, we are concerned about the discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ students by Yeshiva University (YU) while receiving funds from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) and other state funds,” the letter begins.

“YU’s discriminatory behavior is wholly inconsistent with the purposes for which state funding is provided, namely, to promote the fullest possible participation by all students in the state’s educational opportunities,” it continues.

“It further appears that YU made misrepresentations to DASNY about the nature of the university. In Yeshiva University v. YU Pride Alliance, YU claims it is not required to recognize the YU Pride Alliance, an LGBTQ student club, because it is a ‘religious corporation’ under New York law. This assertion conflicts with other representations by YU to the State of New York that it is an ‘independent, coeducational, nonsectarian, non-for-profit institution of higher education’ for purposes of obtaining certain bond offerings.

“On December 15, 2022, the First Department Appellate Division affirmed that YU is violating the law by refusing equal treatment to LGBTQ students, and specifically cited YU’s ‘proffered statements to public authorities’ as evidence of its legal status as covered public accommodation. Given these potential misrepresentations, we request that YU provide an immediate accounting of its use of DASNY funds,” the letter states.

The missive was sent by Democratic state Sens. Brad Hoylman, Liz Krueger and Toby Ann Stavisky.

At the heart of the legal dispute is whether the university is a secular institution that must adhere to non-discrimination laws, or a religious one covered by First Amendment protections.

“I think this matter is worthy of investigation and a potential criminal inquiry, based on what we know from their own court testimony,” said Senator Brad Hoylman, the chair of the Judiciary Committee and one of the signatories of the letter. “There is the potential that Yeshiva has misrepresented its mission and that could constitute fraud.”

People walk by the campus of Yeshiva University in New York City on August 30, 2022, in New York City. At the heart of the legal dispute is whether the university is a secular institution that must adhere to non-discrimination laws, or a religious one covered by First Amendment protections. SPENCER PLATT/JNS

Officials at Yeshiva did not respond to the lawmakers’ letter on Wednesday. But Hanan Eisenman, a university spokesman, said in a statement that “the Supreme Court has three times ruled that the government may not restrict funding to religious schools because of their free exercise” of religion.

“Yeshiva will continue to defend the right of its students to be treated by the state on equal footing with students at every other university,” Mr. Eisenman said in the statement. “They choose for themselves how best to live those values, but the First Amendment guarantees Yeshiva the right to maintain a campus environment consistent with its religious beliefs.”

In June, a New York court ordered YU to immediately recognize the YU Pride Alliance as it does other school clubs. The university sought a stay of the order and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for relief.

An initial stay was granted by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Then the full court, in a 5-4 decision issued in September, denied Yeshiva University’s request. It ordered the school to take its appeal back to New York state courts, which YU subsequently did.

In April 2021, a group of students filed a lawsuit against YU, its president and then-vice provost for student affairs for discrimination. The school has argued that as a religious institution, accommodating an LGBTQ student group and providing them with the use of facilities was inconsistent with its mission.

In October, YU announced it was starting a new club to support LGBTQ students in a manner grounded in halachah, Jewish religious law.

“We are eager to support and facilitate the religious growth and personal life journeys of all of our students to lead authentic Torah lives, and we hope that this Torah-based initiative with a new student club tailored to Yeshiva’s undergraduate LGBTQ students will provide them with meaningful support to do so,” said YU president Rabbi Berman at the time.

The Kol Yisrael Arevim Club—its name comes from a Hebrew saying that all Jews are responsible for one another—will, according to the school, “provide students with space to grow in their personal journeys, navigating the formidable challenges that they face in living a fully committed, uncompromisingly authentic halachic life within Orthodox communities.

 

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate.

(Additional reporting provided by Alberto Arellano)

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