NY lawmakers probing Yeshiva University over opposition to LGBT club

The university’s allegedly ‘discriminatory’ behavior against  Pride Alliance club due to religious reasons throws a cloud over having received $230 million in state funding as a nonsectarian school.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Three New York state legislators wrote to Yeshiva University (YU) last week demanding that the school give a detailed accounting of some $230 million it received from the state in light of its allegedly discriminatory behavior towards LGBT students.

Senators Brad Hoylman, Liz Krueger and Toby Ann Stavisky, the respective chairs of the state senate’s Judiciary, Finance and Higher Education committees, told the school’s administration that they want to know within 30 days exactly how it spent the money, which it received through bond offerings by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY).

In its funding request, YU said it would be used to renovate its campus and restructure debt. The time period in question is 2009 and 2011.

The lawmakers explicitly linked their demand to the university’s refusal to open a club for alternate lifestyle students by citing the First Amendment right to practice religion freely. The Orthodox Jewish school believes it cannot recognize a club that encourages relations that are antithetical to Jewish law.

Both a lower court in June and an appellate court in December last year rejected the First Amendment argument specifically because the institution is officially chartered as a nonsectarian educational corporation and thus is required to comply with state anti-discrimination statutes, which would include allowing the opening of the YU Pride Alliance club.

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The senators cited the contradictory nature of the school’s presentation of itself, writing, “Yeshiva University’s discriminatory behavior and claimed [religious] status appear to be at odds with the statements the university made to obtain state funds. If so, the university is not using those funds for approved state purposes. We will not abide the use of state funds to support discriminatory behavior that excludes LGBTQ students from their right to an equal education.”

According to The New York Times, which broke the story, YU had stated that it would not use the DASNY money for “sectarian religious instruction or as a place of religious worship.”

“I think this matter is worthy of investigation and a potential criminal inquiry, based on what we know from their own court testimony,” the paper quoted Hoylman as saying. “There is the potential that Yeshiva has misrepresented its mission and that could constitute fraud.”

YU is in the midst of appealing the appellate court’s decision.

The school had struck a deal in September with the Pride Alliance allowing it to delay recognizing its club until all the litigation was over. The students had agreed after YU suspended the activities of all its clubs so as not to have to comply with the legal ruling. The administration then angered the group by opening a support club for LGBT undergrads that would be a “traditional Orthodox alternative to YU Pride Alliance,” which the group called a “sham.”

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Lawyers for YU had turned to the US. Supreme Court in September to block the first court’s ruling, but in a split decision the justices declined to intervene as the appeals process was not yet exhausted. The majority did say that once all the lower courts had their say, the school could turn to them again if necessary, and the dissenting judges, all conservatives, wrote in their opinion that “Yeshiva would likely win if its case came before us.”