In a case that has made it to the United States Supreme Court once, and is seemingly destined to do so again, a New York state appeals court has agreed with a lower court that Yeshiva University, a private Orthodox Jewish school located in New York City, is not a “religious corporation” that is exempt from the Big Apple’s public accommodations law.
Since it is not religious enough to qualify for an exemption, it must, the court concluded, give official school recognition to a “YU Pride Alliance” club, whose purpose is to “vehemently disagree” with Yeshiva’s interpretation of the Torah regarding homosexuality, and “make a statement” and promote “cultural changes” at the school.
The school mounted a defense under the First Amendment, asserting it was the school’s right “to decide matters ‘of faith and doctrine,’” citing recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to that effect. The appeals rejected those arguments and ruled that the school’s denial of recognition to the LGBT club is not “essential” to Yeshiva’s “central mission.”
“Supreme Court [editor’s note: in New York this refers to a trial court] correctly held that Yeshiva does not meet the definition of ‘religious corporation incorporated under the education law or the religious corporation law,’ which would exempt it from the prohibitions against discrimination in public accommodations as an organization ‘deemed to be . . . distinctly private,’” Judge Lynn R. Kotler wrote for the state appeals court.
On Yeshiva’s first trip to the U.S. Supreme Court back in September, after the New York courts had ruled against the school for the first time, a majority of the justices refused to block the New York trial court’s injunction requiring Yeshiva to recognize the Pride Alliance club, saying the case was not ripe for the justices to address just yet, as more options for protection were available to Yeshiva in the lower courts.
Four justices – Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett – dissented at the time. Justice Alito wrote the dissenting opinion.
“Does the First Amendment permit a State to force a Jewish school to instruct its students in accordance with an interpretation of Torah that the school, after careful study, has concluded is incorrect?” Alito wrote.
“The answer to that question is surely ‘no.’ The First Amendment guarantees the right to the free exercise of religion, and if that provision means anything, it prohibits a State from enforcing its own preferred interpretation of Holy Scripture. Yet that is exactly what New York has done in this case, and it is disappointing that a majority of this Court refuses to provide relief,” the justice added.
After the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the case, it returned to the New York state courts where the school has now lost for a second time.
The Yeshiva University holds significance for all religious schools, according to the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and former board member of Focus on the Family.
“Well, in this case, the story of Yeshiva University could be the story of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the story of a Catholic institution,” Mohler said in his September 14 podcast, “The Briefing.” “If a judge can rule this way about a Jewish institution, and tell a Jewish institution it really can’t function in a Jewish way, then the same principle would allow it to tell a Baptist seminary or a Catholic university essentially the same thing.
“In this case, Yeshiva University turns out to be a test case for all of us.”
Yeshiva University is represented by Becket Law.
The case is YU Pride Alliance v. Yeshiva University.
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