This item was updated to include a response from Yeshiva University, which arrived Tuesday evening.
NEW YORK (JTA) — A group of students and alumni is suing Yeshiva University for discrimination, claiming that the university violated New York City’s human rights law when it refused to recognize an LGBTQ student club.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in New York County Supreme Court.
Over the last few years, the students repeatedly lobbied the university’s administration to formally recognize a Gay-Straight Alliance club. The university, a prominent Modern Orthodox institution, has grappled with how to reconcile a traditional interpretation of Jewish law, which does not allow homosexual relations, with its engagement with the secular world.
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Molly Meisels, a recent Yeshiva University graduate who led the effort for inclusion while enrolled, called the lawsuit “a last resort.” The suit asks the university to officially recognize the club as a student organization and to award damages to the plaintiffs.
“Queer students and allies at Yeshiva University have been meeting with administrators, applying for club status, sharing our stories with rabbinical figures and advocating internally for years,” Meisels told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “When we realized that our efforts were for naught, we knew that filing a lawsuit was the last way for us to succeed in our endeavors.”
Yeshiva University registers as a nonsectarian corporation, and has received “hundreds of millions of dollars” in state funds and benefits, according to the suit. The students say that the school should not “pick and choose which New York City laws apply.”
On Tuesday, 48 faculty members of Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law sent a letter to the president of the university, condemning Y.U.’s refusal to allow LGBTQ students to form a club. “Discrimination against a student organization solely because of its focus on LGBTQ+ issues has no place in a university that holds itself out as a community committed to the flourishing and equal dignity of all its members,” the letter reads. The faculty members also wrote that the university’s decision is “unlawful under federal, state, and city civil rights laws.”
In a statement sent Tuesday evening, the university responded: “Yeshiva University is the bearer of a 3,000 year-old Torah tradition, which we hold sacrosanct. At the heart of our Jewish values is love — love for God and love for each of His children. Our LGBTQ+ students are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, family and friends. Our policies on harassment and discrimination against students on the basis of protected classifications including LGBTQ+ are strong and vigorously enforced. Our Torah-guided decision about this club in no way minimizes the care and sensitivity that we have for each of our students, nor the numerous steps the university has already taken. We are actively engaged with our students, faculty and rabbinic leaders to facilitate productive discussions with an eye toward understanding and embracing diverse perspectives.”