In a reversal of its earlier decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected Yeshiva University’s emergency request for a stay on a lower court’s order directing the Jewish institution to recognize an LGBT student club.
After being ordered to immediately give the Pride Alliance official student club status, Yeshiva asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay on that order while it appeals the case at the state level. The Manhattan-based university argued on grounds of the First Amendment, saying that it cannot be forced to promote on campus what’s inconsistent with its guiding religious beliefs.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is initially responsible for all emergency appeals from a geographic area that covers New York, put the lower court’s ruling on hold before referring the case to the full Supreme Court.
The full Supreme Court, with Justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh joining a 5–4 majority, said Tuesday that Yeshiva had not exhausted all its legal options before seeking intervention from the nation’s highest court. For example, the university could have asked the New York Court of Appeals for an expedited review of its appeal.
“The application is denied because it appears that applicants have at least two further avenues for expedited or interim state court relief,” the unsigned majority opinion states. “If applicants seek and receive neither expedited review nor interim relief from the New York courts, they may return to this court.”
Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barett dissented from the ruling.
In his dissenting opinion (pdf), Alito said that just because the university’s appeal has not yet been decided at the state level, it doesn’t mean the Supreme Court has no authority granting a stay of an apparently unconstitutional order.
The appellate process in the state courts could “easily drag on for many months,” he argued, during which Yeshiva would have to continue to “make the statement about Torah that it finds objectionable” in violation of the school’s First Amendment rights.
“Does the First Amendment permit a State to force a Jewish school to instruct its students in accordance with an interpretation of Torah that the school, after careful study, has concluded is incorrect? The answer to that question is surely ‘no,'” Alito wrote.
“The First Amendment guarantees the right to the free exercise of religion, and if that provision means anything, it prohibits a State from enforcing its own preferred interpretation of Holy Scripture,” he continued. “Yet that is exactly what New York has done in this case, and it is disappointing that a majority of this Court refuses to provide relief.”
The Yeshiva University Pride Alliance celebrated Tuesday’s ruling as a victory.
“This Supreme Court decision is a victory for Yeshiva University students who are simply seeking basic rights that are uncontested at peer universities,” the club told student newspaper The Commentator. “A majority of the Supreme Court has ruled that this case must go through the normal state process, rejecting the university administration’s unprecedented, premature, and harmful rush to the highest federal court in the country.”
Yeshiva didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The university, known for using a curriculum based largely on the Modern Orthodox interpretation of Jewish law, said in a previous press release that it wanted the Supreme Court to “protect its religious mission from government interference.”
“The lower court rulings would force Yeshiva to put its stamp of approval on a club and activities that are inconsistent with the school’s Torah values and the religious environment it seeks to maintain on its undergraduate campuses,” it said.