Supreme Court Reverses Decision in Religious Rights Case

The United States Supreme Court backtracked on a ruling that it made granting temporary permission for a New York Orthodox Jewish university to deny official recognition to an LGBTQ student group.

The school’s refusal was based because it conflicted with the institution’s interpretation of the Torah. 

Yeshiva University had petitioned the court for an urgent ruling when a New York State judge demanded that the school had to let what is called the Pride Alliance register as a student association. This permission would give it access to certain facilities and services.

On Friday, the High Court took the side of the university and granted temporary permission. But now it has reversed its decision by vacating that ruling. The Court said the university had not exhausted all of its legal options at the New York State level. It also said that if the university does not succeed at the lower levels of the court system, it could return to the Supreme Court. 

There were four of the court’s nine judges dissented from this new ruling vacating their previous decision. 

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the dissent, “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.”

Students at Religious University Will be Allowed to Have LGBTQ Club

Yeshiva University was founded more than 100 years ago in 1886 to promote the study of Judaism. It describes itself today as a multifaceted institution that “integrates the knowledge of Western civilization and the rich treasures of Jewish culture.”

It has a student body of approximately 5,000 people. They now also have degrees to earn in areas like biology and accounting. 

Back in 2018, a group of LGBTQ students formed the YU Pride Alliance. They wanted formal recognition as a student association so they could plan lectures and hold meetings.

University officials denied their request and the association sued the school. A New York judge sided with the students citing the precedent law that bans discrimination. 

The university took the case to the Supreme Court. 

“As a deeply religious Jewish university, 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,” the university stated in its appeal.

Katie Rosenfeld is the attorney for the YU Pride Alliance. She praised the ruling of the Supreme Court to refer the case back to the lower courts and claimed it as a victory for the Yeshiva University students.

“We are confident that we will continue to overcome the administration’s aggressive litigation strategies against its own LGBTQ+ students, who choose to attend Yeshiva University because they are committed to the school’s mission,” Rosenfeld said in a statement.

She added that now the students will have their club for peer support at the school and they will no longer be denied a safe and supportive space on campus. She also added, “And the sky is not going to fall down.”

The president of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Ari Berman, said that the university will follow the Supreme Court’s instructions. He believes that every faith-based university in the country has a right to establish clubs and spaces that fit within their faith tradition. And he said that Yeshiva University is simply seeking the right to self-determination.

Rabbi Berman also expressed his commitment and love the LGBTQ students and his desire to work together to develop an inclusive campus life that is consistent with their Torah values.