By Arthur Z. Schwartz
In early December, marking an important step in a fight which has gone all the way to the US Supreme Court, The Appellate Division of the NY State Supreme Court ruled that Yeshiva University must formally recognize an LGBTQ+ student group, the Y.U. Pride Alliance. In so ruling, the Court rejected the Jewish school’s claims that doing so would violate its religious rights and values. Yeshiva operates a major Village institution, Cardoza Law School, whose students and faculty have rebelled against its parent university over this issue.
The ruling by the Appellate Division in Manhattan marked the latest setback for the university in its fight to avoid recognizing Y.U. Pride Alliance in a case that even conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices have refused to block the state court injunction.
The court upheld Supreme Court Justice Lynn Kotler’s June 24th decision that the school did not qualify as a “religious corporation,” which would exempt it from prohibitions against discrimination by a place or provider of public accommodation under the New York City Human Rights Law. Yeshiva made this assertion because religious corporations have an exemption from some provisions of the State Human Rights Law. But Judge Kotler had pointed out that that Yeshiva was incorporated as an educational corporation.
That law bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, religion, race, gender, age, national origin and some other factors.
The unanimous four-judge panel also said requiring Yeshiva to recognize the club did not violate its rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to the free exercise of religion, saying the law was “neutral and generally applicable.” The Court acted after the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision (with Justice Roberts voting against the stay) in November declined to block the New York judge’s June ruling requiring it to recognize the club. Yeshiva has no automatic right to appeal.
Katie Rosenfeld, a lawyer for Y.U. Pride Alliance, in a statement said the ruling affirmed that the school “cannot discriminate against its LGBTQ+ students by continuing its refusal to recognize the Y.U. Pride Alliance.”
Y.U. Pride Alliance agreed in September to hold off on forcing Yeshiva to recognize it while the school pursued its appeals after the school briefly halted all student club activities.
In September approximately 200 students from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law gathered to protest against its parent school, Yeshiva University, over the university’s ongoing fight against the formation of an undergraduate LGBTQ+ club and to show support for the Y.U. Pride Alliance students.
Additionally, the Cardozo Law Board of Overseers posted a statement online saying, that it is “wholeheartedly and unequivocally opposed to Yeshiva University’s undergraduate division’s discriminatory policy against its LGBTQ+ students.”
“Yeshiva’s decision to deny the students’ request for a Pride Alliance club is extremely disturbing to us as representatives of this great law school,” the board said in the statement. “We want to make it perfectly clear that Cardozo operates completely independently of the undergraduate school of Yeshiva University,” adding that the law school has always been nondenominational and nondiscriminatory.
The law school has numerous LGBTQ+ groups, including the OutLaw student group founded nearly 30 years ago, the Cardozo OutLaw Alumni Association
More than 50 Cardozo Law professors have sent a letter to Yeshiva President Ari Berman expressing “our profound disappointment that Yeshiva University continues to enforce a discriminatory policy that harms its LGBTQ+ undergraduate students and, has gone so far as to seek the intervention of the United States Supreme Court in this matter,” according to the letter.
The professors had requested Berman treat the Y.U. Pride Alliance with the same respect and dignity Yeshiva shows other student organizations.”
Melanie Leslie, who has been Cardozo Law’s dean since July 1, 2015—and the first woman and Cardozo graduate to fill that role, wrote on LinkedIn that “I wish to emphasize once again that Cardozo Law School is committed to supporting our OutLaw student and alumni groups, and to treating all individuals, including our LGBTQ+ faculty, staff, and students, with respect, equality, and dignity so that they may work and learn in a safe, unbiased, supportive environment.”
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the President of the Public Interest Law Foundation Advocates for Justice.