The Constitutional Grounds for Yeshiva University’s Quarrel with New York City

Sept. 9 2022

Claiming that its decision not to grant official status to an undergraduate gay and lesbian group does not violate New York City’s antidiscrimination laws, Yeshiva University (YU) has argued that it is exempted by specific clauses in these laws granting exceptions for religious institutions. A state judge, however, recently ruled that YU is not an organization with “a religious purpose,” and therefore these exemptions don’t apply. In response, the school has petitioned the Supreme Court to intervene. Michael A. Helfand explains the “bold” legal argument YU is making:

[T]he First Amendment provides religious institutions the right to engage in internal religious decision-making free from governmental interference. Often referred to as the “church autonomy doctrine,” this constitutional principle is well established in numerous legal contexts. For example, it has provided the constitutional basis for why, at times, courts are instructed to stay out of property disputes between warring factions within a church.

This doctrine is also the basis for why houses of worship have the right to hire and fire ministers free from government regulation—why, for example, Orthodox synagogues are constitutionally permitted to reject all female applicants for a rabbinic position even though doing so in any other context would be prohibited sex discrimination. In 2020, the Supreme Court described this principle as providing religious institutions a constitutional guarantee of “independence in matters of faith and doctrine and in closely linked matters of internal government.”

The boundaries of the doctrine, however, are unsettled. What kinds of religious institutions qualify for this sort of protection? And what decisions are the sort of internal religious decision-making beyond the jurisdiction of courts?

Some scholars and judges have suggested that the doctrine should only apply to cases in which solving the underlying dispute would require a court to pick a side in theological questions, but does not apply when a court is simply asked to apply a law prohibiting certain forms of discrimination.

Read more at Forward

More about: Freedom of Religion, Supreme Court, U.S. Constitution, Yeshiva University


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship