The Supreme Court said Wednesday that an Orthodox Jewish university in New York is required to officially recognize a group of LGBTQ students for now in a rare legal defeat for religious rights.
In a 5-4 vote, the judges rejected an emergency request made by Yeshiva University, which claimed that recognizing the group would be contrary to its sincere religious beliefs.
The ruling leaves untouched a ruling by a New York state judge, who ruled in June that the university was bound by New York City human rights law, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The university argues that it is a religious institution and should therefore be exempt from the law. Requiring the school to endorse the group would be a “clear violation” of his First Amendment rights, which protect the free exercise of religion, he said.
Last week, Judge Sonia Sotomayor imposed a temporary stay on the state court ruling, giving the court more time to consider the claim. Wednesday’s court order said the university could turn to the High Court again if it is unable to block the New York state courts’ ruling.
Four of the court’s six conservative justices dissented, saying the court should have intervened immediately.
“I doubt Yeshiva’s return to state court will be successful, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t grant a reprieve at this time. It is our duty to uphold the Constitution even when this is controversial. “said Judge Samuel Alito. wrote.
The LGBTQ group Pride Alliance, which first applied for recognition of the university in 2019, filed a lawsuit in April 2021, claiming the school was required to grant its request because it is a public accommodation covered by the anti-discrimination law.
The Yeshiva, which describes itself in court documents as “a deeply religious Jewish university,” said officials concluded, after consulting with Jewish religious scholars, that an official LGBTQ club would be incompatible with its religious values. The university, which was founded in 1897 for religious purposes, says it maintains that character even as it has expanded its educational scope to include secular programs.
New York’s anti-discrimination law includes an exemption for religious organizations, but Manhattan-based Judge Lynn Kotler found Yeshiva did not meet the relevant criteria.
Pride Alliance, joined by four individual plaintiffs, said in its response that the university’s request was premature and questioned whether it faced an emergency. All the university would be required to do is provide the group with access to the same facilities that 87 other groups already receive, he said.
Kotler’s decision “does not affect the university’s well-established right to express to all students its sincere beliefs,” attorneys said in court documents. They noted that an LGBTQ club has existed within the university’s law school for decades and that the university’s student bill of rights states that New York’s human rights law s applies to students.
Pride Alliance members said they are planning events supporting LGBTQ rights for the coming weeks, with some scheduled around Jewish holidays.
The Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority has strongly supported religious rights in recent cases, including several during its last term, which ended in June. Among those rulings, the court ruled in favor of a high school football coach who led on-field prayers after games, raising concerns among school officials that his actions could be seen as an endorsement by the government of a religion prohibited by the First Amendment.
The court also considered several cases pitting LGBTQ rights against religious rights, ruling last year in favor of a Catholic Church-affiliated agency that Philadelphia barred from participating in its foster care services because the group refused to place children with same-sex couples. In 2018, the court ruled in favor of a conservative Christian baker in Colorado who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
In a similar vein, judges are due to hear oral argument this fall in a case involving a Colorado web designer who wants the court to rule that, based on her evangelical Christian beliefs, she does not have to design same-sex wedding websites. couples.
The court is in summer recess, with the new term due to begin in October.