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Supreme Court says Jewish university not required to recognize LGBTQ group

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WASHINGTON (BP) – Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an order Sept. 9 that stayed a New York court’s requirement that the country’s oldest Jewish university officially recognize a gay and transgender group.

The order blocked enforcement of a judicial mandate that Yeshiva University must grant official recognition to the YU Pride Alliance. The stay of the lower-court action will remain in effect until Sotomayor or the full Supreme Court decide otherwise, she said in her brief order.

Yeshiva University, a 136-year-old institution in New York City, had filed an emergency application with the justices requesting a stay of the lower-court order while the case is under consideration.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) had joined nine other religious organizations in a Sept. 2 friend-of-the-court brief that asked the Supreme Court to block the state court order and protect Yeshiva’s right to act according to its beliefs.

“A religious institution won’t be forced to violate its deeply held beliefs. That is a welcome result regardless of the context,” said Brent Leatherwood, the ERLC’s acting president. “But what’s mystifying is that it took an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court to attain this result.

“The courts in New York should have realized from the outset that mandating Yeshiva University, an orthodox Jewish school, to give official recognition to a club in a way that infringes its religious rights was improper, to say the least,” Leatherwood told Baptist Press in written comments.

“Going down that path would constitute a massive erosion of the ability of faith-based organizations to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with their religious views, harming not just those institutions but our nation’s culture as well.”

Becket, a religious liberty organization that is representing Yeshiva in the case, and the university also expressed gratitude for Sotomayor’s order.

“Yeshiva shouldn’t have been forced to go all the way to the Supreme Court to receive such a commonsense ruling in favor of its First Amendment rights,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, in a written release.

The organizations that signed onto a brief with the ERLC consisted of Houston Baptist University, Cedarville University, Liberty University, Biola University, Wheaton College, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Archdiocese of New York, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Brigham Young University. Other Christian associations, as well as various Jewish organizations, also filed briefs that urged the Supreme Court to issue a stay.

According to their brief, the ERLC and the other organizations differ in multiple ways but are united in this case “because their ability to serve and to structure their ministries as their beliefs require depends upon the protections of the First Amendment.” The lower-court decision and the appeals court’s refusal to stay the ruling constitute “a grave and pressing threat to religious liberty that warrants [the Supreme Court’s] immediate action,” they said in the brief.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars government establishment of religion and guarantees religious free exercise.

Yeshiva University, which has more than 7,400 undergraduate and graduate students on four campuses, says education at the school is based on five Torah values – truth, life, infinite human worth, compassion and redemption. Torah refers to Jewish instruction, specifically that of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.

Yeshiva says it welcomes, provides support to and seeks to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students, but it refused to grant official recognition to the YU Pride Alliance in 2020. An alumni-and-student coalition sued the school.

The Supreme Court of New York County issued a permanent injunction June 14 against Yeshiva and ordered the school to grant the complete privileges to YU Pride Alliance that it offers to other student organizations. The court ruled Yeshiva is not a religious corporation under state law. On Aug. 23, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, denied Yeshiva’s request that it block enforcement of the lower court’s order.

Sotomayor, considered a member of the high court’s liberal wing, issued the order in the case in her capacity as the justice assigned to the Second Circuit, which consists of New York, Connecticut and Vermont. Each Supreme Court justice is assigned at least one of the country’s 13 federal judicial circuits.