YU Is On The Frontlines In Fight For Religious Liberty

 Originally published September 21, 2022


The most recent term of the Supreme Court saw a bevy of wins for religious freedom in our country – a seismic shift from the previous generation of the court.  In Maine, religious schools were told they could not be penalized by their state in terms of funding because of their inclusion of religion in their curriculum.  In Washington State, a high school football coach was told he can pray on the field as he has done for his entire career.  Yeshiva University may be the next landmark case that the Supreme Court chooses to use to protect religious freedom.

The legal battle, officially known as YU Pride Alliance v. Yeshiva University, began in 2020 when students tried to form an official LGBT club on campus.  YU, being a religious institution, denied the student club, as such activities are expressly forbidden in Judaism.  One can only assume that if a Culinary Club was formed that did not abide by rules of kosher observance, YU would not allow that club either.  At the same time, YU has openly-gay students who are not subject to any discrimination, even though they are violating the religious views of the school. YU also does not penalize students for violating Shabbat rules or eating non-kosher.  They have made a clear delineation between personal actions and student clubs with school approval.  Nevertheless, in response to the rejection, students and alumni sued YU in April 2021.  

Unfortunately for YU, the New York that existed when they formed in 1886 is not the New York of today, and a New York County Supreme Court ruled that “Yeshiva’s educational function, evidenced by its ability to now confer many secular multi disciplinary degrees, thus became Yeshiva’s primary purpose. Even if Yeshiva still “promote[d] the study of Talmud,” that does not necessarily make Yeshiva a religious corporation.”  So because you can get a well-rounded education at Yeshiva University, they are not eligible to have their religious liberty protected.

At the same time, New York is cracking down on Jewish schools that don’t provide a well-rounded education.  After a scathing New York Times article focusing on Hasidic schools, outsized attention has been focused on these yeshivot and their educational results.  This report came at the same time that new regulations were passed by New York.  According to NPR, “The new regulations will mandate that all private schools provide specific instruction in English, ensure teachers are competent in their subjects and require lessons in subjects like math and history.”  These regulations and opinion pieces direct their ire toward institutions that are mostly funded privately, with some public funding going towards school bussing and the like.  There is no such indignation for the New York City public school system, which routinely shows that less than half of its students are proficient in reading and slightly more than half are proficient in math.  

So New York is demanding that yeshivot provide a well-rounded education, but if the school wants to adhere to its religious principles, it cannot do so because providing a well-rounded education means that it’s not a religious institution.

Is it any wonder that religious people feel under assault in this state?

Thankfully, YU is fighting back. After the Supreme Court – in a 5-4 decision with Justices Alito, Coney-Barrett, Gorsuch, and Thomas dissenting – denied the stay that would have allowed YU to reject the student club, YU is continuing its case in the appeals court.  In the meantime, instead of allowing the club to form, YU disbanded all student clubs.  YU’s legal team knows that once the club forms, any court will view it as a precedent, and use the club’s very existence as evidence that the club can remain in existence.  They did the only logical thing: They put a pause on all student club activities until a court decision has been reached.

While there is a cacophony of discussion regarding YU’s actions in this case, there is little to no mainstream coverage of the actions of the plaintiffs, the YU Pride Alliance. Their decision to try and force a Jewish institution through the court system to violate Jewish law is nothing short of abhorrent.  

When a Jew sues another Jew, it is proper and traditional to go to a Beis Din. The obvious reason is that if the issue could be resolved within the confines of a Jewish court adhering to Jewish law, that is a superior path to justice.  Obviously, YU Pride Alliance knew that they would find no recourse in the Jewish court system, as the issue is clear.  Knowing this, however, they decided to proceed.  This is because they are part of competing communities: the LGBT community versus the Jewish community.  While the Jewish community has been grappling with accepting members of the LGBT community, trying to find common ground when they can, the LGBT community views Judaism – and religious tradition generally – as the enemy. Judaism’s rules and strictures are anathema to the LGBT community, so instead of attending other colleges or waiting a few years until graduation, the Pride Alliance is all too willing to force the institutions of Judaism to violate their fundamental beliefs.

Is it still possible to be religious in the deep-blue sea of New York?  Only if the religious among us are ready, willing, and able to fight and keep fighting for that religion – even when the forces of the media, the courts, and the activists are attacking you.  

Moshe Hill is a political columnist and Senior Fellow at Amariah, an America First Zionist organization. Moshe has a weekly column in the Queens Jewish Link, and has been published in Daily Wire, CNS News, and other outlets.  You can follow Moshe on his blog www.aHillwithaView.com, facebook.com/aHillwithaView, and www.twitter.com/HillWithView.  

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