At present, Yeshiva University is locked in a legal battle over its decision to deny official status and funding to an LGBTQ student group. The Manhattan-based Orthodox Jewish institution claims that a New York state court’s ruling against it violates its religious freedom. Last week, a group of state senators—apparently goaded by two articles in the New York Times—asked the New York inspector-general to investigate whether YU, which claims in the litigation to be a “religious corporation,” inappropriately received public monies. Michael A. Helfand finds the complaint “a bit bizarre.”
Yeshiva University has undoubtedly argued repeatedly that it is a religious institution. But religious institutions are not precluded from seeking private financing through the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY). In fact, any number of religious universities—the Jewish Theological Seminary, St. John’s University, and, as noted by the Times in its initial report, Fordham University and Siena College—have financed projects with DASNY backing. It seems strange, therefore, to pit Yeshiva University’s claim to being a religious institution as somehow in tension with participating in this sort of government-backed financing.
To be sure, as the senators’ letter makes clear, DASNY-financed projects cannot be used for “sectarian religious instruction,” “a place of religious worship,” or “in connection with any part of a program of a school or department of divinity for any religious denomination.” But nothing in the state senators’ letter explains why they think Yeshiva University violated these terms. Yeshiva University’s statements in the course of litigation regarding DASNY financing have simply affirmed that it complied with the restrictions on prohibited religious uses.
[O]ne certainly hopes that what government officials would not do is initiate an investigation into the purported misappropriation of funds because they separately disagree with an institution’s policy as it relates to the LGBTQ community. Investigations such as these are supposed to be about maintaining integrity. The exercise of power to intimidate would serve to do the exact opposite.