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Jewish university launches LGBT club as litigation continues

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A Jewish university engaged in litigation over its refusal to approve an LGBT club on campus has launched an LGBT group of its own as it continues to make the case that it is a religious institution instead of a public accommodation.

In a statement Monday, Yeshiva University announced the formation of a “new initiative grounded in Halacha and Torah values to support its LGBTQ undergraduates, including strengthening its on-campus support services and endorsing a new student club that presents an approved traditional Orthodox alternative to YU Pride Alliance.”

Yeshiva’s refusal to recognize YU Pride Alliance, an LBGT group, as an official student club has subjected America’s flagship Jewish university to an ongoing lawsuit.

The university created the Kol Yisrael Areivim Club for LGBT students “striving to live authentic Torah lives.” The university indicated that the club will “provide students with space to grow in their personal journeys, navigating the formidable challenges that they face in living a fully committed, uncompromisingly authentic halachic life within Orthodox communities.” The club will encourage students to maintain lives of chastity. 

Participants in the club will be able to “gather, share their experiences, host events, and support one another while benefiting from the full resources of the Yeshiva community.”

“We are eager to support and facilitate the religious growth and personal life journeys of all of our students to live authentic Torah lives, and we hope that this Torah based initiative with a new student club tailored to Yeshiva’s undergraduate LGBTQ students will provide them with meaningful support to do so,” said Yeshiva University President Rabbi Ari Berman.

Yeshiva’s Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Herschel Schacter expressed hope that the new club “deepens our students’ commitment to the Torah and leads to harmony in our Yeshiva University community.”

In a statement shared with the media, YU Pride Alliance called the new club a “sham.” 

“This is a desperate stunt by Yeshiva University to distract from the growing calls from its donors, alumni, faculty, policymakers, and the business community, who have stood alongside the YU Pride Alliance, as we continue to fight for our rights,” the statement reads.

“The YU sham is not a club as it was not formed by students, is not led by students, and does not have members; rather, it is a feeble attempt by YU to continue denying LGBTQ students equal treatment as full members of the YU student community.” 

Leaders of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Yeshiva University in its litigation with YU Pride Alliance, elaborated on the development in a call with reporters on Monday. 

Becket Executive Director Montse Alvarado said the new club “reflects the input and perspectives from conversations between all of these stakeholders: Yeshiva’s rabbis, educators, its current and past undergraduate LGBTQ students.”

“This is the university’s way of pastoring and caring for, in a compassionate way, the LGBTQ students, but also drawing a very important line about what it means to be an Orthodox Jew and to be part of Yeshiva University, the flagship university that is recognized around the world for being animated by its five core Torah values: seeking truth, living your values, discovering your potential, acting with compassion and bringing redemption,” she added.

Alvarado said the university has “always had on-campus support services for its LGBTQ students and has been committed to sensitivity training for faculty and staff, strict anti-harassment, anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies and ongoing support groups and educational sessions during orientation for its incoming students.”

The university will expand these support services as part of the new initiative unveiled Monday.

Becket Senior Counsel Eric Baxter maintained that the Kol Yisrael Areivim Club “would be encouraging students to live lives of chastity.”

“It has been made clear that the responsibilities and the desires that the university has for all students are the same, that all students are … encouraged to live lives of chastity, lives that are walking alongside the spiritual values that they’re being given by the choice that they made, their individual choice to come to this university.”

“This is not a requirement that is specific to LGBTQ students,” Baxter added. “It’s something that is asked of and hopefully inspired by what they’re learning to live a life that is consistent with Torah values and that’s for everyone. It’s not specific to any one type of student that identifies as one way or another.”

Baxter suggested that the ongoing litigation “is not really about the approval of any specific club” but rather “calls into question Yeshiva’s ability to make religious decisions generally.”

He identified the conclusion of the lawsuit as a determination that “Under the New York City Human Rights Law, Yeshiva is a public accommodation, which means it cannot engage in any decision-making based on religion even.”

“And so it’s religious admissions, it’s religious hiring, it’s the fact that it provides religious worship for Jews but not other religious faiths, the fact that it requires approval for all the student club activities to ensure that they are consistent with the law and values,” he said. “So we anticipate that the lawsuit will have to go forward because Yeshiva needs to confirm that it is not a public accommodation, that it has the right to make religious decisions and to maintain its religious identity.”

The litigation between Yeshiva University and YU Pride Alliance dates back to 2020. After a New York State Supreme Court justice ordered the school to recognize YU Pride Alliance as an official club earlier this year, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a stay last month, vacating that ruling as litigation continued. 

After the stay from the U.S. Supreme Court expired and a state court declined to issue a ruling providing the university with relief late last month, Yeshiva University and the YU Pride Alliance entered into an agreement halting enforcement of the court order requiring the college to recognize the club while litigation continued.

The Becket case page for YU Pride Alliance v. Yeshiva University outlines the next steps in the litigation. With briefings due for completion by Oct. 14, oral arguments before the New York Appellate Division will take place in November, with a ruling expected shortly thereafter. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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