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Yeshiva University petitions Supreme Court in bid to prohibit official LGBTQ club

The case is just the latest at the intersection of religious freedom and nondiscrimination protections to go before the court’s conservative majority. 
Yeshiva University
Students walk at Yeshiva University in New York on March 4, 2020. David Dee Delgado / Getty Images file

A private university in New York City has asked the Supreme Court to reverse a New York judge’s decision earlier this summer requiring it to officially recognize an LGBTQ student group. 

Yeshiva University, which describes itself in the court filing as a “deeply religious Jewish university,” filed an emergency request with the high court on Monday to stay a lower court’s order to designate YU Pride Alliance as a bonafide campus organization. 

The club has already started planning several Pride events for the fall semester, including LGBTQ “shabbatons,” and it plans to include LGBTQ-themed gift bags for Jewish holidays like Purim and Passover, the filing says. 

In a victory for the student group, New York Supreme Court Judge Lynn Kotler ruled on June 14 that the school is not a religious institution and therefore must comply with New York City Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of “actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender.” Yeshiva then appealed to the next highest court, and that request was denied on Aug. 23. 

In Monday’s filing, addressed to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Yeshiva asks the court to reconsider whether religious protections in the First Amendment can be used to override the city’s human rights law, which Judge Kotler used as a basis for her June decision. 

In the filing, the university calls the LGBTQ club a “government-enforced establishment” that is “irreparably damaging” what the school calls its religious mission. 

The university’s lawyers at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty say in the filing the university is “wholly committed” to Torah values and cannot put its own name or “seal of approval” on undergraduate clubs that appear inconsistent with those values. 

“Yeshiva has thus declined to approve proposed student clubs involving shooting, videogames, and gambling,” the filing states.

In a statement to NBC News, Kate Rosenfeld, one of the lawyers representing the student group, said a previous court had already “correctly ruled” that Yeshiva must grant equal accommodations to all students on campus and called it “disheartening” that Yeshiva will not join other major religiously affiliated universities to allow LGBTQ students to create safe spaces for themselves. 

“While the University is free to hold its own religious beliefs, it can’t provide some students full access to its facilities — meeting spaces, bulletin boards, club fairs — and deny others the same benefits because they are LGBTQ,” Rosenfeld said.

Lawyers for Yeshiva did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The case is just the latest at the intersection of religious freedom and nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people to go before the conservative-majority Supreme Court. In June, the court ruled 6-3 in favor of allowing parents in Maine to use taxpayer-funded tuition assistance to help their kids attend private religious schools, some of which openly discriminate against LGBTQ students and staff. Last year, the court also ruled in favor of a Catholic charity that refused to let same-sex couples use its adoption services.

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