Supreme Court temporarily blocks ruling that required Jewish college to recognize LGBTQ group

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday temporarily allowed an Orthodox Jewish university in New York City to deny official recognition to a group of LGBTQ students, the latest in a series of rulings in support of religious rights.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor, in a brief order, granted an emergency request made by Yeshiva University, which claims recognition of the group would be contrary to its sincere religious beliefs. Sotomayor is responsible for emergency requests from New York.

The dispute is the latest clash between religious rights and LGBTQ rights to reach the High Court, which has a 6-3 Conservative majority.

Friday’s decision stays a ruling by a New York state judge, who ruled in June that the university is bound by New York City human rights law, which prohibits the discrimination based on sexual orientation. The university argues that it is a religious institution and should therefore be exempt from the law. Forcing him to endorse the group would be a “clear violation” of his rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects the free exercise of religion, the university claims. Sotomayor said the lower court’s decision would remain pending “pending a further order” from the Supreme Court, suggesting the court could issue a more detailed order in the coming days.

“Yeshiva should not have been forced to go all the way to the Supreme Court to receive such a sensible ruling in favor of her First Amendment rights. We are grateful that Judge Sotomayor stepped in to protect Yeshiva’s religious freedom in this case,” said Eric Baxter, an attorney for religious freedom legal defense group Becket, which represents Yeshiva.

The Pride Alliance group, which first applied for recognition in 2019, filed a lawsuit in April 2021, claiming the university was required to grant its request because it is a place of public accommodation covered by the anti-discrimination law.

Pride Alliance attorney Katherine Rosenfeld said Friday that the group “remains committed to creating space for LGBTQ students” on campus and would await the Supreme Court’s final decision.

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 was founded in 1897 for religious purposes and claims to retain this character even as it has expanded its educational scope to include secular programs.

New York City’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 there was an emergency warranting Supreme Court intervention. All the university would be required to do if the judge’s order were allowed to go into effect is provide the group with access to the same facilities that 87 other groups already receive, class attorneys said.

Kotler’s decision “does not affect the university’s well-established right to express to all students its sincere beliefs,” the 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, including 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 that 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 the religion prohibited by the First Amendment.

The court, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, has also considered several cases pitting LGBTQ rights against religious rights, ruling in 2021 in favor of a Catholic Church-affiliated agency that Philadelphia banned from participating in its services. foster care because the group refused to place the children in 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 currently in summer recess, with the new term due to begin in October.

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