Officials at Yeshiva University (YU) in New York City in September suspended all student clubs to avoid complying with a court order to recognize an LGBTQ group.
Pride Alliance, an LGBTQ student club that YU refuses to recognize, sued the university for violating New York City’s Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. The ongoing fight in the lower courts has been about whether YU qualifies as a “public accommodation” under the law.
A New York court ruled in favor of Pride Alliance earlier this year. Rather than continue to litigate that question in the state courts, Becket Fund, a Christian nationalist legal group, appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Becket argued that YU should be exempt from the human-rights law in question because of its Modern Orthodox Jewish beliefs, even though it receives public funding and is chartered as a secular educational institution, not a religious organization – something the university acknowledged more than 25 years ago, when its own attorneys said it wasn’t eligible for a religious exemption from the nondiscrimination law.
The Supreme Court declined to intervene on YU’s behalf in late September. The high court refused to act mainly on procedural grounds, noting that the litigation was still active in New York courts and pointing out that YU could pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court if it disagrees with the New York courts’ ultimate decision.
The leadership of Pride Alliance offered a generous compromise, in the form of temporarily suspending its efforts to gain official recognition from the university if officials there would allow other clubs to resume.
“We do not want Y.U. to punish our fellow students by ending all student activities while it circumvents its responsibilities,” the group said in a statement. “Y.U. is attempting to hold all of its students hostage while it deploys manipulative legal tactics, all in an effort to avoid treating our club equally.”
In response, officials at Yeshiva said they would allow student clubs to resume after the Jewish holidays in late September and October.
Last month, Americans United joined a legal brief in the case, arguing that officials at Yeshiva should not be able to claim immunity in the case by asserting the doctrine of “church autonomy,” which would prevent the state from making inquiries into its affairs.
Observes the brief, “[C]ourts have long recognized that this doctrine does not provide religious entities with blanket immunity from civil action.” (YU Pride v. Yeshiva University)