Yeshiva University, a New York-based Orthodox Jewish school, made a surprising announcement Monday that it plans to launch a new LGBTQ group ― prompting condemnation from the current LGBTQ student group, YU Pride Alliance, whose contentious relationship with the school has recently included legal battles.
“We are eager to support and facilitate the religious growth and personal life journeys of all of our students to lead authentic Torah lives,” Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, YU’s president, said in a statement. “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.”
The new group, Kol Yisrael Areivim, will serve as an “approved traditional Orthodox alternative” to the current LGBTQ group, the university said. But the announcement raised speculation, as it follows only a month after the Supreme Court ruled that the university had to formally recognize the Pride Alliance.
The Pride Alliance tried to get recognition from the college in 2019, but was denied. In April 2021, the group sued the school, claiming that YU’s refusal to recognize them was a violation of the New York City Human Rights Law.
“YU’s doublespeak that it accepts LGBTQ students at the same time as it aggressively blocks their efforts to create a safe space for discussion and support is not genuine,” the group said in a statement on its website. “YU wants to pick and choose when it’s convenient to accept LGBTQ students.”
The university had asserted that, as a religious institution, it was protected by the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, and was therefore exempt from abiding by the New York law. But a state judge found that YU didn’t qualify for a religious exemption, and instead ruled in favor of the Pride Alliance in June, The Washington Post reports.
The Pride Alliance condemned the formation of the new student group in a statement, calling it a “sham” and a “feeble attempt by YU to continue denying LGBTQ students equal treatment as full members of the YU student community,” NBC News reports.
“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 group said in its statement.
The school asked for the Supreme Court to intervene after the state judge’s ruling, arguing that recognizing the Pride Alliance would violate the institution’s religious beliefs. But the Supreme Court rejected the school’s request to overrule the New York ruling, under the reasoning that YU had at least two other options before the high court would get involved. If those fail, then YU can return to the Supreme Court, but for now, the school must comply with the state court ruling.
The school suspended all student club activities shortly after the Supreme Court decision. Following the news of the suspension, the Pride Alliance decided to stand down on its efforts to receive official recognition until its legal battle ends, as long as the university allowed other student groups to gather. YU is expected to appeal the ruling in state court.
“We do not want Y.U. to punish our fellow students by ending all student activities while it circumvents its responsibilities,” the group said in September, according to The New York Times. “Y.U. is attempting to hold all of its students hostage while it deploys manipulative legal tactics, all in an effort to avoid treating our club equally.”