Can the state force a religious university to violate its religious beliefs? – Catholic World Report

(Image: Stavrialena Gontzou/Unsplash.com)

In an emergency motion filed earlier this week, Yeshiva University — an Orthodox Jewish university — is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block a New York court order requiring Yeshiva to recognize a group of LGBT students “Pride Alliance” as an official college club. Claiming that his First Amendment rights are being violated, Yeshiva University has attempted to defend his right to run his school in accordance with his religious beliefs.

Stating that the decision “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,” the Becket Religious Freedom Fund filed the petition with the Supreme Court on behalf of Yeshiva. The request came after an August 23, 2022 appeals court decision denied the school’s motion to delay the New York court’s previous order to recognize Yeshiva’s YU Pride Alliance.

It all started in February 2019 when students were trying to get an LGBTQ club recognized as the Gay-Straight Alliance. But it was cancelled. The students then rebranded their club as the YU Pride Alliance in 2020, hoping to gain endorsement by avoiding using LGBTQ terms in its name. When the school again refused – citing its deeply religious character – and saying it could not recognize such a club, a lawsuit was filed in April 2021 by three former students and a current student (who has remained anonymous) to Yeshiva who demanded that the school officially recognize an undergraduate LGBTQ advocacy club.

According to the filing, the Yeshiva alumni and current student freely admit that Yeshiva is a deeply religious institution and they claim they sought recognition of the club for “religious reasons.” In the recently filed statement (included in the current emergency application to the Supreme Court), the plaintiffs state that they are already actively planning Pride Alliance events for the fall semester of 2022, including plans to hold school-sponsored LGBTQ shabbatons, prepare LGBTQ-themed Shalach manos (ritual packages for the holiday of Purim), and prepare school-sponsored Passover packages to celebrate Passover.

Yeshiva University has stated that its religious mission cannot be separated from its policies: “The Torah guides everything we do at Yeshiva – from how we educate students to how we run our dining halls to how we organize our campus,” according to the president of Yeshiva University. Ari Berman in a press release. “We care deeply about and welcome all of our students, including our LGBTQ students, and continue to be engaged in productive dialogue with our rabbis, faculty, and students about how we apply our values ​​of the Torah to create an inclusive campus environment. We only ask the government to allow us the freedom to apply the Torah in accordance with our values.

The state has so far denied those claims. The state claims that the Yeshiva is not a religious institution and that religious education is not at the heart of what it does. A university spokesperson made the statement to The commentator, Yeshiva University Independent Journal: “Obviously false. As our name suggests, Yeshiva was founded specifically to impart Torah values ​​to its students by providing an exceptional education, enabling them to solidly live their faith as noble citizens and committed Jews. We love and care for all of our students – each created in the image of God…”

All of this resonates with Catholic colleges and universities – especially the small number of faithful Catholic colleges and universities included in the Newman Guide to Faithful Catholic Colleges and Universities – who are committed to upholding Catholic teaching and practice throughout the world. set of education.

Most — but not all — of the Catholic colleges and universities included in the Newman Guide have banned LGBTQ clubs and activities on their campuses for the same reason Yeshiva bans clubs. For example, the University of St. Thomas in Houston — a school recommended by Newman Guide — approved funding through its student organization Diversity and Inclusion to host LGBTQ-related events with the stipulation that the committee chair of school Catholic identity be included in the planning of the event. process with campus ministry. The heterodox New Ways Ministry celebrated the school’s decision.

Most other Newman Guide schools have refused to do so because they recognize that these clubs often morph into LGBTQ advocacy groups, sometimes with disastrous results. But many of these loyal Catholic colleges continue to face pressure from alumni and current students to form such clubs. Walsh University—another staunch Catholic university included in the Newman Guide—tried to resist such student pressure. However, according to The cantonal deposit, faculty support for a gay-straight alliance on campus emerged when two Walsh faculty members worked through the Walsh University Diversity Council to organize a Walsh student trip to the University of Notre Lady. The purpose of the trip was to meet the leaders of Notre Dame’s own LGBTQ+ club called PRISMND. But even Notre Dame’s gay support club didn’t offer the range of opportunities that Walsh’s former faculty member, English professor Amanda Gradisek, envisioned for Walsh University. Gradisek said Deposit to reporters that “the Notre Dame group was far from perfect, given the compromises they had to make”.

Current lobbying efforts involving Walsh’s Oasis Club have been ongoing for over a year. Described as a “safe space for LGBTQIA+ students and their allies to meet, discuss issues and talk about service initiatives, the club proposal was submitted in May 2021 by Kaylyn Liossis, a Walsh senior who identifies as pansexual or queer, and Hannah McFeeters, a senior who identifies as an ally. The university did not respond to the proposal.

In an attempt to encourage the administration to take action to approve the proposal, Walsh students created a petition to “call on Walsh University to allow and accept an LGBTQ+ safe space club on their campus and to give this club emotional and financial support. “We are simply asking for the same support given to all other clubs on campus. Without a safe community for LGBTQ students at Walsh, students find themselves isolated, alone, excluded, and shunned from the larger campus community. A student activist told a Deposit reporter that “My friends are a fiery bunch…we don’t back down.”

This is the problem faced by even faithful Catholic colleges and universities such as Walsh, St. Thomas and the other Newman Guide schools. There is a consistent demand from a small number of progressive students and alumni (and sometimes even faculty members) for Catholic colleges and universities to be “inclusive” in terms of gender identity and gender identity. orientation, even though these policies run counter to Catholic teachings.

Villanova University recently made the administrative decision to implement an inclusive gender identity policy that requires faculty and staff to consider students’ gender identity preferences – “especially for those who identify within transgender, non-binary, gender-nonconforming and/or gender-questioning communities”. Villanova’s policy requires teachers to apologize promptly if they “cheat” on a student and encourage university officials to “politely intervene in cases of sexual misconduct” on campus. Faculty members are mandated (in a policy co-created by Villanova’s Gender and Women’s Studies program) to include a gender-inclusive statement in their curriculum and to “carefully review your course listings and employee records for noun and pronoun designations”.

The faithful Catholic colleges and universities are surely the last refuge against all this. Schools including Ave Maria University, Franciscan University and the University of Dallas have successfully resisted gender ideology. In a recent interview published here on Catholic World Report, Jonathan J. Sanford, president of the University of Dallas, said, “A Catholic university is called to be a place of witness to Christian truth, while respecting academic freedom and the commitment to inquiry of members individuals in their community… We do not see the Catholic part of a Catholic liberal arts education as a “value-added” component… A true Catholic education is a liberal arts education through and through; that is, an education which frees us to live virtuously, which enables us to think for ourselves so that we can direct all our efforts towards the greater glory of God.

In a strong statement last week at the opening of the fall semester at Franciscan University, Fr. Dave Pivonka, the president of Franciscan, spoke forcefully of the need to teach the truth when he told those gathered, “Here at Franciscan, we don’t subscribe to the world that says you can’t know truth, you can’t know goodness. , that you cannot know the beauty. We don’t subscribe to the world that says young people don’t matter. We believe you matter. Deeply you count. Our desire for you here is that you discover who you are. Who God wants you to be.

The transgender movement – ​​like much of the LGBTQ movement – ​​is a movement based on lies and emotional appeals. Loyal religious colleges and universities – Catholic, Christian and Jewish universities – understand this and refuse to be co-opted. I am optimistic that Yeshiva will prevail in its claims for religious freedom. This legal victory is significant because the outcome of the Yeshiva petition will undoubtedly have much broader implications for religious colleges and universities.


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Ruth R. Culp