Agudath Israel Goes to Court to Seek Invalidation of N.y.c. Gay Rights Contract Clause

An attorney for Agudath Israel of America said the Orthodox agency filed today a request in the State Supeme Court of New York County here for a summary judgement that the New York City Board of Estimate had no authority to insert a requirement in city contracts that agencies getting such contracts pledge non-discrimination in hiring on the basis of “sexual orientation or affectional preference.”

David Zweibel, Agudath Israel director of government affairs and the agency’s counsel, said the request was being filed jointly with the New York Catholic Archdiocese and the Salvation Army.

The three religious groups obtained a ruling on June 28 from the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, invalidating Mayor Edward Koch’s Executive Order 50, requiring such a pledge from agencies signing contracts with the city to fund programs for the poor and needy.

The Mayor issued the order after the City Council rejected, on 14 occasions, his request that it adopt legislation requiring such commitments by agencies signing contracts with the city. Executive Order 50 was ruled invalid on grounds its issuance exceeded the Mayor’s authority and could be made law only by the city’s legislative body, the City Council.

Zweibel had conceded it was highly unlikely that the clause would ever need to be followed by Agudath Israel in implementing projects funded by the city. He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that while there was no legal ban on asking applicants for jobs whether they were homosexuals, Agudath Israel had never done so and he agreed that such an applicant would deny it, if asked.

He told the JTA that “it has not occurred that an overtly homosexual person has sought employment with Agudath Israel and we do not think it is likely to occur. Nonetheless, for us to promise in advance that, if the situation does arise, we would close our eyes to that overt display of homosexuality is, from our perspective, inconsistent with Jewish religious principle.”

ISSUE MIGHT NEVER ARISE

Political experts consulted by the JTA agreed that Koch and the Board of Estimate were probably aware that the issue of anti-homosexual bias in hiring for city contract projects would probably never arise. Asked why, given that fact, the Mayor had turned to an executive order, the political experts speculated that his stand probably had something to do with the upcoming city elections. Koch is running for a third term.

Zweibel said the Board of Estimate began inserting the disputed hiring clause into contracts coming before it for approval in the fall of 1984, shortly after a lower court held that Koch lacked authority to issue Executive Order 50.

He said Agudath Israel signed a contract in June for the fiscal year starting July 1, containing the disputed clause but with a rider it was doing so under protest and giving the agency the option of backing out on the contract, if the issue was lost in court, to avoid charges of breaking a contract. About $1.5 million in city funds goes to Agudath Israel in each yearly contract.

Agudath Israel filed a lawsuit against the Board of Estimate last October, but took no further action pending the outcome of the litigation on Executive Order 50. Zweibel said the Court of Appeals ruling invalidated only the Executive Order, specifically disavowing a ruling on the validity of any similar action by the Board of Estimate.

He said each of the three religious groups was asking the State Supreme Court to invalidate the Board of Estimate action. He said the three organizations had been awaiting a final court judgement against Executive Order 50 before proceeding with their request for a summary judgement that the Board of Estimate, which they consider an executive body, has no more authority than did the Mayor, to require such commitments from agencies accepting city contracts for various programs of helping those in need.

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