Cardozo Law School Fights to Get Yeshiva University President to Affirm that It’s Okay to be Gay
By Kashmir Hill
While there are quite a few law schools affiliated with religious universities — see, e.g., Georgetown (Jesuit), Seton Hall (Catholic), and Pepperdine (Christian) — Cardozo Law School seems to be the school that most often encounters friction with its parent institution, Torah-embracing Yeshiva University.
Though affiliated with the Orthodox Jewish university, Cardozo is adamantly a secular institution. Yet, there are contradicting school policies — last year, a reality-game-show-winning 3L protested an administrative policy that unkosher food not be purchased for official school events by using his own funds to bring in “mouthwatering” nonkosher pizza.
Religion and godless living are clashing again at the school, and this time, it’s over something more pressing than pizza. In December, students at Yeshiva University organized a panel on “Being Gay in the Orthodox World.” The response from the Yeshiva University’s president was that there should be no being gay in the orthodox world. Yeshiva President Richard Joel issued the following statement after being made aware of the panel. An excerpt:
In light of recent events, we want to reiterate the absolute prohibition of homosexual relationships according to Jewish law. Of course, as was indicated in a message issued by our Roshei Yeshiva, those struggling with this issue require due sensitivity, although such sensitivity cannot be allowed to erode the Torah’s unequivocal condemnation of such activity. Sadly, as we have discovered, public gatherings addressing these issues, even when well-intentioned, could send the wrong message and obscure the Torah’s requirements of halakhic behavior and due modesty.The statement did not sit well with students and professors at Cardozo Law School, who felt that the university administration’s “unequivocal condemnation” of homosexuality undermined Cardozo’s commitment to “academic freedom” and “antidiscrimination principles.” Yeah, you think?
Though Cardozo considers itself an independent entity, its students and professors could not stand by while President Joel condemned all same-sex lovin’. Members of OUTLaw, Cardozo’s LGBT student group, were understandably offended by the “prohibition” of their lifestyle
But you didn’t have to be LGBT to see Joel’s statement as patently offensive. Said one student:
Even as a heterosexual male with no extreme feelings about gay rights, I am so utterly embarrassed by President Joel and his statements, especially given that he is a former lawyer and professor.Cardozo Law School Dean Matthew Diller stepped up and supported freedom of sexuality, issuing a public statement. He does not mention the Torah, and instead emphasizes that he and Cardozo embrace homosexuals:
Cardozo is a diverse law school that welcomes people of all religions, races, backgrounds and sexual orientations. We are proud of our community and value the many contributions of our past and present gay and lesbian students, faculty, administrators, and staff to building our Law School and to our nationally recognized success. Cardozo has an active LGBT student organization and sponsors a range of academic activities focusing on the legal questions raised by issues relating to sexual orientation, including faculty scholarship, courses, public panels and speakers. The Law School also has programs to support the careers of LGBT students and alumni who may face issues of discrimination in the job market.Cardozo is diverse on an administrative level. In a conversation with the school’s press person, he mentioned that Vice Dean Ed Stein is openly gay.
Cardozo professors, led by Alex Reinert (who recently paid a visit to One First Street) and Ellen Yaroshefsky, later sent an open letter (available in full here [PDF]) to the president, objecting to his statement and its suggestion that “the right to speak openly depends on one’s sexuality or one’s views on sexuality.” Like good lawyers should, the professors cite applicable laws and regulations behind their “commitment to equal dignity and respect” for all members of their community — the subtext is that President Joel’s statement could threaten the law school’s certification:
We have done so mindful of and consistent with the policies of the Association of American Law Schools and the American Bar Association, both of which flatly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexuality and embrace academic freedom. See AALS By-Laws 6-3; ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools 211.Last week, professors and students met with President Joel about their objections.
“We were all very pleased that President Joel agreed to meet with us… He affirmed and reaffirmed Dean Diller’s statement,” Professor Ellen Yaroshefsky told us. “It’s always been clear that Cardozo is a secular university.”
President Joel did not retract his statement, but he did endorse Dean Diller’s statement. A nice little workaround.
Though Cardozo claims to be secular, there is certainly a cultural back-and-forth on campus. When we wrote about the pizza protest last year, a Cardozo alum wrote the following to us:
Over the past several years, there have been ongoing efforts to re-brand Cardozo’s image as a serious contender among NYC law schools. Many higher ups in the administration have often acknowledged that one huge thing holding the school back in its rankings and recruitment is its status as a “Jewish” law school, most notably our former Dean, David Rudenstine. This goes to Mr. Johnston’s comments about the differences in how the law school is marketed and portrayed as opposed to Yeshiva undergraduate.The “pushback” did not help Cardozo in the rankings this year. It was the only school to fall out of the Top 50 in the US News rankings this year. There’s no rainbow lining on that cloud.
This also brings up other problems that have caught the attention of Above the Law, such as the scheduling snafu due to Jewish holidays, the fact that the library is on lockdown after sundown on Fridays, and the absence of gym facilities provided by the school (apparently Jewish law forbids women to sweat in the presence of men). There is currently a huge debate going on at the school between more hard line administrators seeking to safeguard these arguably non-secular attributes, and others (mostly newer faculty members, alumni, and many students) trying to repeal practices.