May 20, 2024
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YU Seeks First Amendment Protections

America’s oldest Jewish university asked the Supreme Court to protect its First Amendment rights, asking SCOTUS to provide an emergency stay of the New York Appellate Court’s decision in YU Pride Alliance v. Yeshiva University. First brought to New York State courts in April 2021, Yeshiva University is seeking to defend its right to conduct its student affairs in accordance with its religious beliefs, asking the court to protect its religious mission from government interference.

Representing the YU Pride Alliance, three school alumni and one then-current student sought court support for the university to officially recognize an LGBTQ Pride Alliance club on campus. The lower court rulings sided with the Pride Alliance, but attorneys for the school argue that this would force Yeshiva to put its stamp of approval on a club and activities that are inconsistent with the school’s Torah values and the religious environment it seeks to maintain on its undergraduate campuses.

“The Torah guides everything that we do at Yeshiva—from how we educate students to how we run our dining halls to how we organize our campus,” said Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University.

“We care deeply for and welcome all of our students, including our LGBTQ students, and continue to be engaged in a productive dialogue with our rabbis, faculty and students on how we apply our Torah values to create an inclusive campus environment. We only ask the government to allow us the freedom to apply the Torah in accordance with our values.”

Established in 1886, Yeshiva University is the United States’ foremost expression of the Torah Umadda philosophy, which advocates for participation in secular culture in accordance with Torah values. Those values pervade all life at the university.

In accordance with its multimillennial tradition of Torah values, representatives for the university said that Yeshiva provides extensive support services to its LGBTQ students and bans anti-LGBTQ bullying and discrimination. But in 2020, a small group demanded that Yeshiva recognize a “Pride Alliance” club on campus. Despite its 136-year commitment to its religious identity—the group stated it was not in fact a religious institution entitled to First Amendment protections. Even though all undergraduate students are required to engage in intense religious studies, a New York Supreme Court judge held that the university is not sufficiently religious to enjoy constitutional and statutory protections for religious institutions, ordering Yeshiva to “immediately” recognize the Pride Alliance club. This week, Yeshiva asked the United States Supreme Court for an emergency stay of that order pending appeal.

“When secular authorities try to tell Yeshiva University that it is not religious, you know something has gone terribly wrong.” said Eric Baxter, VP and senior counsel at Becket. “The First Amendment protects Yeshiva’s right to practice its faith. We are asking the Supreme Court to correct this obvious error.”

Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 25 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs and Zoroastrians.

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