Metro Weekly

Supreme Court Rejects Yeshiva University’s Request for Injunction

Orthodox Jewish university asked high court to overturn ruling requiring it to recognize an LGBTQ student group on campus.

A sign for Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus in New York City. – Photo: Beyond My Ken, via Wikimedia.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency request from an Orthodox Jewish university in New York seeking an injunction that would allow it to refuse to deny recognition to an LGBTQ student group.

In a 5-4 vote, the justices rejected Yeshiva University’s request for the injunction to block a lower court ruling finding that the university violated the New York City Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, when it refused to recognize the LGBTQ Pride Alliance as an official campus group.

Yeshiva filed an emergency appeal asking the Supreme Court to block the court’s ruling, arguing that requiring the school to recognize the group is a “clear violation” of its First Amendment rights. The university claimed the New York state judge failed to take into account the university’s religious beliefs, which oppose homosexuality. 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor placed a temporary hold on the state court ruling, giving the high court additional time to consider the request. In Wednesday’s ruling rejecting the emergency request, the court said Yeshiva could turn to the high court in the future if is it not able to block the ruling in New York state courts, but decided to let the judicial process play itself out before intervening, reports NBC News

Four of the court’s six conservative justices dissented, saying the court should have intervened immediately.

“I doubt that Yeshiva’s return to state court will be fruitful, and I see no reason why we should not grant a stay at this time. It is our duty to stand up for the Constitution even when doing so is controversial,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito.

Yeshiva has maintain that allowing an official LGBTQ club on campus is inconsistent with the religion’s values. The university also claims that it was founded in 1897 for religious purposes, and that those religious values are an inherent part of the university’s character, even as the college’s educational offerings have expanded to include secular programs.

The LGBTQ Pride Alliance first sought recognition — which would have granted the group access on-campus facilities and allowed it to advertise itself publicly on campus, rights 87 other clubs and groups currently enjoy — in 2019, but had its request rejected by the school. In April 2021, the group sued the school, saying it could not deny its request because the university is a place of public accommodation, which is covered by the city’s nondiscrimination law.

While the law contains an exemption for religious institutions, Manhattan-based Judge Lynn Kotler concluded back in June that Yeshiva doesn’t qualify as a “religious corporation,” noting that the university’s own descriptions of itself — in its charter, public messaging, and applications for state funding — claim it is an educational institution, thus making it subject to the Human Rights Law.

Kotler also found that forcing Yeshiva to recognize the Pride Alliance did not violate the school’s First Amendment rights because “formal recognition of a student group does not equate to endorsement of a group’s message,” reports the Jewish independent newspaper Forward.

The LGBTQ Pride Alliance, joined by four individual plaintiffs, had argued, in response to Yeshiva’s request for an emergency injunction, that the university’s request was premature. It argued that Kotler’s ruling did not infringe on the university’s religious beliefs, noting that an LGBTQ club has existed within the university’s law school for decades and that the university’s student bill of rights claims that the New York Human Rights Law fully applies to students.

Members of the LGBTQ Pride Alliance have said they plan to host events backing LGBTQ rights in the coming weeks, including some times around Jewish holidays, reports NBC News.

The court’s 5-4 ruling is a rare defeat for religious rights, which have been unduly favored by the court’s conservative majority in a host of cases, including several where LGBTQ rights have come into conflict with the rights of people with beliefs opposing homosexuality or same-sex marriage. In 2021, the court sided with a Catholic Church-affiliated agency that had its foster care contract with the city of Philadelphia canceled after it refused to place children with same-sex couples.

In 2018, the court ruled in favor of a baker who refused to bake a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex couple, finding that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had failed to take into account, and expressed hostility toward, the baker’s sincerely held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage. 

The high court recently agreed to hear a similar challenge to Colorado’s nondiscrimination law during its next term, which begins in October. In that case, a web designer is seeking a religious exemption from the nondiscrimination law that would allow her to refuse to design wedding websites for same-sex weddings and advertise the fact that she does not serve same-sex couples.

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