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Yeshiva University, a private Orthodox Jewish school with campuses in New York, has decided to close all undergraduate clubs rather than allow an LGBTQ group to meet temporarily. It is the second time this week that Orthodox Jews have made headlines for making the worst possible decisions when they could easily have done the bare minimum.
The drama here really started on Wednesday night when the Supreme Court, perhaps surprisingly, confirmed a state court ruling requiring the school to recognize an LGBTQ group, providing a rare loss for the “religious freedom” crowd.
The case involves the Yeshiva University Pride Alliance, which wanted the school to recognize it as an official group of students, with all the perks and benefits that come with it. The school said no, arguing that allowing its name to be used by a pro-LGBTQ rights group violates its ‘Torah values’ and could wrongly lead people to believe they support or condone these opinions. (The YU Pride Alliance says it disagrees with the school’s interpretation of Torah and that same-sex relationships are permitted in the faith.) The school also says the courts don’t not have to interfere in their religious decisions. A state court ruled that New York’s anti-discrimination laws prevented the school from denying recognition to this group.
It was then that Yeshiva University asked the Supreme Court to intervene, knowing that the Court’s conservatives were likely to support their position.
But when the ruling came down this week, the liberal justices, along with John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh, handed the Pride Alliance a temporary victory. Simply put, they said the university had other options for appealing the earlier decision at the state level and should go through those channels first. If these attempts fail, the Supreme Court will review their case (and presumably rule in favor of the school).
The dissenting justices were furious, insisting that this temporary stay would have disastrous consequences:
The result is that The yeshiva is almost certain to be obligated for at least some time (and perhaps for a long time) to instruct its students in accordance with what it considers to be an incorrect interpretation of Torah and Jewish law..
It is hard to imagine that allowing the Yeshiva University Pride Alliance to come together like the other clubs would cause a massive ripple in the space-time continuum that is Jewish law. Who, exactly, is going to be confused about the school’s stance on same-sex relationships?
Either way, the legal battle will continue for a while yet… at least until the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court takes over the case.
But Yeshiva University decided to go nuclear in response.
Rather than allowing the YU Pride Alliance to meet as an official group, the administration decided that no groups were allowed to meet. Yeshiva officials would rather go after all clubs — and all students — than allow an LGBTQ group to exist.
Quoting the upcoming Jewish holidays, the university sent a terse, unsigned email mid-afternoon on Friday saying it would “withhold all undergraduate activities” while it plans its next steps to “follow the road map provided by the Supreme Court of the United States”.
The university did not say how long the suspension would last or if it would be renewed.
As a lawyer from the student group pointed out New York Times, this approach is akin to when “the city of Jackson, Mississippi…closed all public swimming pools rather than comply with desegregation court orders.” All students at Yeshiva University will be deprived of meeting with their clubs as the school administration cannot accommodate LGBTQ students who want the same opportunity.
This is absolutely petty and bigoted behavior from religious leaders who are utterly incapable of handling LGBTQ issues with maturity or common sense. If they had allowed the group to come together now, and even if they had approved of the group in the first place, chances are very few people would have noticed. And hardly anyone would have confused the group’s position with the university’s official position. It’s only because the school treated a paper cut as a beheading that it’s now a national controversy.
The irony is that all of this can backfire on you anyway. Just ask Brigham Young University, which refused to recognize its own LGBTQ group more than a decade ago, prompting an outpouring of support and media attention for openly LGBTQ students who have continued to fight against the bigotry of the leaders of their school.
If Yeshiva University wants to make sure young people are repelled by the Orthodox Jewish faith, this is the way to do it. Instead of taking a brave stand on a serious moral issue, administrators are doubling down on the laziest kind of bigotry.
They will likely win this legal battle. But the long-term damage they will do to the school’s reputation won’t be undone by a Supreme Court victory.