US Supreme Court asks Yeshiva University to license LGBT student club

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – Yeshiva University cannot ban an LGBT student club after the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to block a judge’s ruling ordering the New York Jewish school to officially recognize the group.

The judges, in a 5-4 decision, declined to stay a state court ruling that a city anti-discrimination law required it to recognize YU Pride Alliance as a student club, while the he school was pursuing an appeal in a lower court.

The ruling appeared to send the case back to the state court system. “The request is denied because it appears that the plaintiffs have at least two other expedited or interim remedies available to them in state court,” the decision reads.

Conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett dissented. Liberal Judge Sonia Sotomayor had temporarily blocked the lower court’s order last Friday while judges considered the university’s request.

YU Pride Alliance formed informally as a group in 2018, but Yeshiva determined granting it official status would be “inconsistent with the school’s Torah values ​​and the religious environment it seeks to maintain.” .

The dispute is partly about whether the Yeshiva is a “religious society” and therefore exempt from New York City’s human rights law, which prohibits discrimination by location or service provider. public accommodation.

New York State Judge Lynn Kotler ruled in June that the school’s primary purpose was education, not religious worship, and that it was subject to anti-discrimination law. Kotler also rejected the university’s argument that forcing him to recognize the club would violate his religious freedom protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

After senior state courts in August refused to stay the judge’s ruling, Yeshiva turned to the US Supreme Court, pointing to its religious nature, including that undergraduates are required to engage in intense religious studies.

“As a deeply religious Jewish university, the Yeshiva cannot comply with this order as it would violate its sincere religious beliefs about how to train its undergraduate students in Torah values,” the school told Reuters. the Supreme Court.

In a dissent Wednesday, Alito wrote, “The First Amendment guarantees the right to free exercise of religion, and if that provision makes sense, it prohibits a state from enforcing its own preferred interpretation of Holy Scripture. Yet that is exactly what New York did in this case, and it is disappointing that a majority of this court refuses to award relief.

The Modern Orthodox Jewish University, based in Manhattan, has about 6,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs. Among the school’s values, according to its website, are a belief in “the infinite value of every human being” and “the responsibility to reach out to others with compassion.”

Pushed by its increasingly assertive conservative justices, the US Supreme Court in recent years has expanded religious rights while narrowing the separation between church and state.

During his tenure that ended in June, the court backed a Washington state public high school football coach who refused to stop leading Christian prayers with players on the field after the matches and ruled in favor of Christian families in Maine who sought to access taxpayer money to pay for their children to attend religious schools.

During its next term, which begins Oct. 3, the court will decide a major new legal battle pitting religious freedom against LGBT rights involving an evangelical Christian web designer’s free speech claim. which she cannot be forced under a Colorado anti-discrimination law to produce gay marriage websites.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

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