Jewish University’s Religious Freedom Case Rejected By High Court For Now

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a setback for faith-based colleges and universities last week when it rejected an emergency religious freedom appeal from Yeshiva University.  The decision continues to expose the school to demands by New York authorities that it embrace an LGBT student group in spite of faith-based objections. But a spirited dissent from Justice Samuel Alito and three of his colleagues calls the case “shocking,” so the current ruling could be short-lived.

Founded in 1886 in Manhattan, Yeshiva University is the nation’s oldest Jewish institution of higher education. Its origins as a school dedicated to the study of the Torah and religious texts continue to permeate its operations today.

The Torah guides everything that we do at Yeshiva — from how we educate students to how we run our dining halls to how we organize our campus,”? said?Yeshiva’s president in a release issued by Becket, the university’s advocate in this case.

The school has welcomed discourse with the LGBT community, but its leaders decided its religious beliefs could not allow the embrace of a “YU Pride Alliance” as an officially sanctioned student club. The affected students sued, and a New York court ordered the school to immediately recognize the LGBT club. Judge Lynne Kotler rejected the contention that the school is a religious entity deserving deference for its faith. She believed it is chartered primarily as an educational institution as “evidenced by its ability to now confer many secular multi-disciplinary degrees.”

“The record shows the purpose students attend Yeshiva is to obtain an education, not for religious worship or some other function which is religious at its core,” ruled Kotler. “Thus, religion is necessarily secondary to education at Yeshiva.”

Faced with an immediate order to violate its faith, Becket helped Yeshiva appeal to higher courts in New York. But they declined swift intervention. So, Becket appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eric Baxter, a vice president and senior counsel at Becket, lamented, “When secular authorities try to tell Yeshiva University that it is not religious, you know something has gone terribly wrong.”

While the high court did initially order a stay pending consideration, it then ruled against intervening at this point — effectively reinstating the New York court order. The five justices denying Yeshiva’s appeal suggested legal avenues had not yet been exhausted in New York. However, they did add that Yeshiva could return if New York refused to allow expedited review or interim relief during legal proceedings.

That was not enough for dissenting Justice Samuel Alito and three of his colleagues. He called the majority’s decision not to intervene “disappointing” in light of an apparent First Amendment violation. He explained why Yeshiva should easily qualify for at least a stay to prevent New York’s order from taking effect while proceedings were underway. Alito also suggested the school would likely win its case if judged on the merits before the high court.

A States imposition of its own mandatory interpretation of scripture is a shocking development that calls out for review,” he declared.

ECFA will continue to monitor this important case.

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