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NY officials: Yeshiva U must account for public funds amid legal row over LGBTQ group

State senators note that the school represented itself as being secular when it secured government funding of some $230 million, even as it engages in a legal battle over an unwillingness to recognize an LGBTQ student body on grounds of freedom of religion.

Yeshiva University in New York City. Credit: YU.edu.
Yeshiva University in New York City. Credit: YU.edu.

Three New York state senators sent a letter on Wednesday to the president of Yeshiva University suggesting the administration misrepresented the institution as being secular when it secured government funding of some $230 million, even as the school engages in a legal battle over its unwillingness to recognize an LGBTQ student body on grounds that doing so would infringe upon its rights as a “religious corporation.”

“As members of the New York State Senate, we are concerned about the discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ students by Yeshiva University (YU) while receiving funds from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) and other state funds,” the letter begins.

“YU’s discriminatory behavior is wholly inconsistent with the purposes for which state funding is provided, namely, to promote the fullest possible participation by all students in the state’s educational opportunities,” it continues.

“It further appears that YU made misrepresentations to DASNY about the nature of the university. In Yeshiva University v. YU Pride Alliance, YU claims it is not required to recognize the YU Pride Alliance, an LGBTQ student club, because it is a ‘religious corporation’ under New York law. This assertion conflicts with other representations by YU to the State of New York that it is an ‘independent, coeducational, nonsectarian, non-for-profit institution of higher education’ for purposes of obtaining certain bond offerings.

“On December 15, 2022, the First Department Appellate Division [court] affirmed that YU is violating the law by refusing equal treatment to LGBTQ students, and specifically cited YU’s ‘proffered statements to public authorities,’ as evidence of its legal status as a covered public accommodation. Given these potential misrepresentations, we request that YU provide an immediate accounting of its use of DASNY funds,” the letter states.

The missive was sent by Democratic state Sens. Brad Hoylman, Liz Krueger and Toby Ann Stavisky.

At the heart of the legal dispute is whether the university is a secular institution that must adhere to non-discrimination laws, or a religious one covered by First Amendment protections.

In June, a New York court ordered YU to immediately recognize the YU Pride Alliance as it does other school clubs. The university sought a stay of the order and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for relief.

An initial stay was granted by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Then the full court, in a 5-4 decision issued in September, denied Yeshiva University’s request. It ordered the school to take its appeal back to New York state courts, which YU subsequently did.

In April 2021, a group of students filed a lawsuit against YU, its president and its then-vice provost for student affairs alleging discrimination. The school has argued that as a religious institution, accommodating an LGBTQ student group and providing them with the use of facilities is inconsistent with its mission.

In October, YU announced it was starting a new club to support LGBTQ students in a manner grounded in halakhah, Jewish religious law.

“We are eager to support and facilitate the religious growth and personal life journeys of all of our students to lead 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 YU President Rabbi Ari Berman at the time.

The Kol Yisrael Arevim Club—its name comes from a Hebrew saying that all Jews are responsible for one another—will, according to the school, “provide students with space to grow in their personal journeys, navigating the formidable challenges that they face in living a fully committed, uncompromisingly authentic halakhic life within Orthodox communities.”

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