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Can the state force a religious university to violate its religious beliefs? 

The case of Yeshiva University—an Orthodox Jewish University in New York—being mandated to recognize an LGBT “Pride Alliance” student group has wider implications for religious colleges and universities.

(Image: Stavrialena Gontzou/

In an emergency petition filed earlier this week, Yeshiva University—an Orthodox Jewish University—is asking the United States Supreme Court to block a New York court order mandating that Yeshiva recognize an LGBT “Pride Alliance” student group as an official campus club. Claiming that its First Amendment rights are being violated, Yeshiva University has been attempting to defend its right to run its school in accordance with its religious beliefs.

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

This all began in February 2019 as students attempted to gain recognition for an LGBTQ club under the name Gay-Straight Alliance. But it was overruled. The students then redefined their club as the YU Pride Alliance in 2020, hoping to gain approval by avoiding using the LGBTQ terms in its name. When the school declined yet again—citing its deeply religious character—and claiming that it could not recognize such a club, a lawsuit was filed in April, 2021 by three former students and one current student (who has remained anonymous) at Yeshiva who demanded that the school formally recognize an undergraduate LGBTQ advocacy club.

According to the filing, the Yeshiva alums and current student freely admit that Yeshiva is a deeply religious institution and they claim that they sought club recognition for “religious reasons.” In the recently filed declaration (included in the current emergency application with the Supreme Court) the Plaintiffs state that they are already actively planning Pride Alliance events for the fall 2022 semester, including plans to host school-sponsored LGBTQ shabbatons, prepare school sponsored LGBTQ-themed Shalach manos (ritual packages for the Purim holiday), and make school-sponsored Pesach 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 Yeshiva University President Ari Berman in a press release. “We care deeply for and welcome all our students including our LGBTQ students and continue to be engaged in a productive dialogue with our Rabbis, faculty and students on how we apply our Torah values 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 rejected these claims. The state claims that Yeshiva is not a religious institution, and that religious education is not at the heart of what they do. A university spokesman gave this statement to The Commentator, Yeshiva University’s independent newspaper: “This is obviously wrong. As our name indicates, Yeshiva was founded specifically to impart Torah values to its students through providing an outstanding education, allowing them to robustly live out their faith as noble citizens and committed Jews. We love and care for all our students—each one created in God’s image…”

All of this has resonance for 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—which are committed to fidelity to Catholic teaching and practice across the entire education.

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

Most of the other Newman Guide schools have declined to do so because they recognize that these clubs often turn into LGBTQ advocacy groups—sometimes with disastrous results. But several of these faithful Catholic colleges continue to get pressure from alumni and current students to form such clubs. Walsh University—another faithful Catholic university included in the Newman Guide—has attempted to resist such student pressure. However, according to The Canton Repository, faculty support for a gay-straight alliance on campus emerged as two Walsh faculty members worked through the Walsh University Diversity Council to arrange for a Walsh student trip to the University of Notre Dame. The purpose of the trip was to meet with leaders of Notre Dame’s own LGBTQ+ club called PRISMND. But even Notre Dame’s gay support club did not offer the breadth of opportunities that former Walsh faculty member Amanda Gradisek, a professor of English, envisioned for Walsh University. Gradisek told Repository reporters that “Notre Dame’s group was far from perfect, given the compromises they had to make.”

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

In an attempt to encourage the administration to act 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 that club the 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 rejected from the overall campus community.” A student activist told a Repository reporter that “My friends are a feisty group … we don’t back down.”

That is the problem confronting even the faithful Catholic colleges and universities such as Walsh, St. Thomas, and the other Newman Guide schools. There is a constant demand from a small number of progressive students and alumni (and sometimes even faculty members) that Catholic colleges and universities must be “inclusive” in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation—even if these policies are counter to Catholic teachings.

Villanova University recently made an administrative decision to implement an inclusive gender identity policy that mandates faculty and staff to accommodate students’ gender identity preferences—”especially for those who identify within transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and/or gender questioning communities.” The Villanova policy requires teachers to apologize promptly if they “misgender” a student and encourages university officials to “politely intervene when misgendering” occurs 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 syllabus, and to “carefully review your course rosters and employee records for name and pronoun designations.”

Faithful Catholic colleges and universities are surely the last refuge from all of this. Schools, including Ave Maria University, Franciscan University, and the University of Dallas have successfully resisted gender ideology. In a recent interview published here at Catholic World Report, Jonathan J. Sanford, the President of the University of Dallas stated, “A Catholic University is called to be a place of witness for Christian truth, while respecting the academic freedom and commitment to inquiry of its individual community members …We do not see the Catholic portion of a Catholic liberal arts education as a ‘value added’ component … A truly Catholic education is a liberal arts education through and through; that is, an education that frees us to live virtuously, that enables us to think for ourselves so that we can direct all of our efforts to the greater glory of God.”

In a strong statement last week during the opening of the fall semester at Franciscan University, Fr. Dave Pivonka, the President of Franciscan, spoke powerfully of the need to teach the truth when he told those gathered, “Here at Franciscan we do not subscribe to the world that says that you cannot know the truth, that you can’t know goodness, that you can’t know beauty. We don’t subscribe to the world that says young people don’t matter. We believe that you matter. Profoundly you matter. 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 emotive appeals. The faithful 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 religious liberty claims. That legal victory is important because the outcome of the Yeshiva petition will undoubtedly have much wider implications for religious colleges and universities.

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About Anne Hendershott 101 Articles
Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.  She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Sophia Books, 2020)


  1. Yeshiva U v Hochul [a presumed case title] is another portend of the inevitable life or death contest between Church and State. War was declared long past during the Obama Administration their contraceptive abortifaciant mandate for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
    What looms ahead is congressional protection of LGBT including antidiscrimination statutes. Passage of law by the Congress doesn’t make the law just. Law must be inherently just or unjust. Reason is there’s no middle ground for the virtue Justice as there are with the other virtues [the virtuous mean between excess and defect]. What is just [the right, or the good] then is inherently good, its opposite inherently evil.
    Our culture is rapidly changing into an amorality that has reached an end stage in which perversity and disorder are the new ethics, the immorality that must be protected, indeed enforced, as we already find in the public school system promoted by the Teachers Union and backed by the Party, the current Administration. Parents who object at school board meetings, or elsewhere as kin the media are confronted, personal data seized, arrested by police, labelled as antidemocratic fascists.
    What is vitally missing? Responsibility of hierarchy to the apex of authority to strenuously and convincingly oppose this legalization of the abominable with every legal means possible. To rail about this on paper [internet text] means virtually nothing. That is, virtually meaningless for the priest, [an internet forum however has value for the layman] except with constrained effectiveness to enlighten, encourage. Although most meaningful and potentially effective for us [clergy including deacons] if spoken out from the pulpit, from the chancery, from the Vatican with faithful courage.

  2. It is very telling that LGBTQ liberals are going after an orthodox Jewish school. The left is viscerally anti-Semitic. They also believe that Jews are a vulnerable target about whom no one really cares. But if they are victorious against these believing Jews, they will go after their real target next: Catholics and fundamentalist Christians.

    • I find anti Semitism on the far left as well as the far right. It just looks a little different in either case.
      I think any faith community that upholds traditional, biblical teachings on marriage and family is going to be in the crosshairs.

  3. Let’s remember one thing: these alphabet soup groups stand FOR nothing. Like all leftist fascists, they are AGAINST Truth, God, and the reality that morality is not the creation of each individual’s choice. These are tormented persons who only know how to destroy.

  4. A “Catholic” University which would normalize what until recently was regarded medically as a mental illness, is in fact NOT a catholic school. I understand virtually all secular colleges are forcing their professors to sign a statement attesting to their loyalty and cooperation to “diversity” and other woke concepts. ALL Catholic colleges and high schools should have a counter-statement for THEIR faculty and students, stating up front that as a Catholic institution, faculty are required to adhere to Catholic teachings in both their private and professional lives. Otherwise they will be terminated from employment.S=Incoming students will know that if they are seeking to establish clubs counter to Catholic theology, they will not find approval. Period. In my opinion, it is not possible for a religious school to be “forced”. This is a matter of refusing to play the state’s game. If the govt plans penalties to withhold govt funding, so be it. Let the chips fall where they may. This also goes for Catholic hospitals which refuse to perform abortions. If that means closing some operations and consolidating, again, so be it. When you sell your soul to the devil for MONEY, little moral standing is left. The money is fed slowly until it becomes an addiction from which the school has extreme trouble withdrawing. “Catholic” schools like Notre Dame and others should be ashamed of how far left they have fallen from real Catholic teachings. Being ” nice” to a certain minute percentage of students does not Trump Catholic morality or catholic teachings. There is an old saying, ” The Truth Hurts”. The intent is never to hurt others for the fun of it, but to stand for what really is the truth. Some hurt when confronting reality may be unavoidable. But the object here is NOT “nice” at any cost. If some cannot bear to hear it, again, so be it. As for the faculty and alumni pushing for woke sentiments, they must be politely refused with our prayers for their souls.

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