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 choices. 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.

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.

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.

Cardozo Law Professors’ Response [PDF]
Joel: Gay Panel ‘Could Send the Wrong Message’ [The Jurist]

Earlier: One 3L’s Anti-Kosher Crusade at Cardozo


FULL STATEMENT FROM DEAN MATTHEW DILLER

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 part of Yeshiva University, which is committed to a non-discriminatory policy and honors the dignity of all individuals. Yeshiva has a mission that is unique among universities. For YU’s undergraduate programs, this mission is reflected in an emphasis on both secular and Jewish religious studies. The YU mission, however, is manifested differently in its professional schools, generally, and at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, in particular. Cardozo’s mission focuses on teaching students the knowledge and skills to be highly accomplished scholars and professionals, and on instilling the highest ethical and moral values so that our graduates are prepared to be outstanding citizens and to uphold the highest standards in the practice of law and in professional life.

Cardozo’s diversity is essential to this mission. The singular brilliance of the American legal system is that it establishes a framework for public life in which people can work together to achieve common ends, while at the same time preserving and valuing individual differences. Law students can only gain a full appreciation of this accomplishment and the challenges it presents by studying law in a community composed of members that have a wide range of perspectives and life experiences. For this reason, among others, having lesbian and gay students, faculty, administrators, and staff is vital to the Law School and we are committed to fostering and maintaining an environment that embraces this diversity.



STATEMENT FROM OUTLAW CO-CHAIR

As you may know, a group of faculty, senior administration, students, and alumni from Cardozo and Albert Einstein Medical School met with President Joel this morning about his December statement. President Joel’s statement is copied at the bottom of this email. Three OUTlaw board members were present at the meeting. Everyone present spoke forcefully and movingly about their reactions to his statement. While the meeting was “off the record,” we can discuss the meeting without quoting President Joel.



The positive to the meeting was that President Joel stated that he would publicly affirm Dean Diller’s statement during a future interview with The Jurist. Dean Diller’s statement is copied below. The statement emphasizes Cardozo’s commitment to diversity as well as the difference between the professional schools and the undergrad programs.



With that said, OUTlaw is still deeply concerned about the continued vitality of President Joel’s December statement. President Joel noted that the statement was issued in his capacity as president of the yeshiva, rather than Yeshiva University. He also believed that his statement was misunderstood. President Joel further noted that Cardozo is and will be a LGBT affirming place. However, OUTlaw is concerned about the message sent by the statement, especially given that President Joel has decided not to clarify it publicly. We are also deeply troubled about the environment for LGBT students in Yeshiva’s undergraduate programs. OUTlaw stands behind the LGBT undergrads 100%. We will be taking concrete steps in the coming school year to ensure that the entirety of Yeshiva University is a place where LGBT students can learn and grow in an affirming environment.



OUTlaw does not feel that the statement accurately reflects what Cardozo is or should be, and OUTlaw regrets the harm to Cardozo’s reputation caused by President Joel’s statement. We have found Cardozo to be a very LGBT friendly school with a vibrant LGBT social and political life. During our time here, the Cardozo administration has been wholly supportive of LGBT students and LGBT rights. OUTlaw is also greatly appreciative of the overwhelming support we have received from our straight allies amongst the Cardozo students and faculty. In fact, 39 members of the faculty sent a letter to President Joel, which is copied below. In sum, President Joel’s statement reflects a worldview and a mission not subscribed to by Cardozo.

OUTlaw greatly appreciates the feedback it received from the alumni/ae and hopes that they remain connected to Cardozo and OUTlaw in the future. For the students receiving this message, we wish you the best on your finals and papers.


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