- FROLIC INTO COURT
- YALE STUDENTS LOSE CLAIM UNIVERSITY VIOLATED THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
- KLAN COSTUMES AND BLACK FACE - CAN ANYONE PUNISH?
Newsletter > January 2002 > "YALE STUDENTS LOSE CLAIM UNIVERSITY VIOLATED THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS"
YALE STUDENTS LOSE CLAIM UNIVERSITY VIOLATED THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
Timothy M. Burke, Manley & Burke
The challenge by four Orthodox Jewish students to Yale University’s policy requiring freshman and sophomores to live on campus ended in defeat recently when the United States Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal. The students had claimed that requiring them to live in co-ed dorms violated their religious beliefs. As a result they argued that Yale’s parietal rule violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and the United States Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. §1983) by forcing them to live in what they viewed to be a sexually promiscuous environment.
To enforce their Constitutional rights, the students’ critical hurdle was to demonstrate that Yale University was a “state actor.” They had much on which to base that argument. Yale was charted by special legislation adopted by the Connecticut legislature and that charter is confirmed in the Constitution for the State of Connecticut. Yale must submit its budget and finance report to the Connecticut legislature. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor are automatically members of the 19 members “Fellows of Yale College” Governing Board.
[The students had claimed that requiring them to live in co-ed dorms violated their religious beliefs. As a result, they argued that Yale’s parietal rule violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and the United States Civil Rights Act by forcing them to live in what they viewed to be a sexually promiscuous environment.]
The Court of Appeals decision, 1 which upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the case, noted that in prior cases the Supreme Court had “set forth a three-prong standard: Only if (1) the government created the corporate entity by special law; (2) the government created the entity to further governmental objectives; and (3) the government retains *permanent authority to appoint a majority of the directors of the corporation’ will the corporation be deemed a government entity for the purpose of the state action requirement.” Measured against those standards, since a majority of Yale’s Board was not named by the State, the Court of Appeals refused to treat Yale as a state actor and therefore the student’s constitutional claims were
The Court also rejected the students’ other claims, including an argument that the co-habitation requirements created a monopolistic tying arrangement creating unfair benefits to Yale as a landlord. That argument was premised on the students’ perceptions that Yale’s unique attributes resuited in it being “without substitute or equal as a desirable university to attend.” The court, however, noted that “there are many institutions of higher learning providing superb educational opportunities.” The court went on to note that if the plaintiffs “were dissatisfied with the Yale parietal rules, they could matriculate elsewhere.”
The three-judge Court of Appeals panel was split on the plaintiffs claim that Yale violated the Federal Fair Housing Act. The single dissenting judge would have allowed the plaintiffs to proceed with discovery in an effort to establish that the Yale policy had a discriminatory effect on Orthodox Jews and that the Yale policy requiring mandatory on-campus co-ed living was not reasonably necessary to achieve an important business objective of Yale College. If so, could plaintiffs show that Yale unreasonably refused to adopt an alternative, feasible policy that would have provided a comparably effective means of meeting Yale’s educational and financial objectives without imposing significant additional burdens on the plaintiffs.
The decision in the Yale case is a blow to the arguments that Constitutional protections can be extended to students attending “private colleges.” There is, however, no indication in the Court of Appeals decision that the “Sense of Congress” stated in the 1998 Amendments to the Higher Education Act was argued to the court. That section provides:
“It is the sense of Congress that no student attending an institution of higher education on a full- or part-time basis should, on the basis of participation and protected speech or protected association, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination or official sanction under an education program, activity, or division of the institution, directly or indirectly receiving financial assistance under the Higher Education Act of 1965.” (20 U.S.C. §1011(a).)
Whether arguing this provision would have enabled plaintiffs to meet the “state actor” hurdle is speculative, but it would have been instructive if the court had dealt with that issue since, as yet, no court has.
1 Hack v. Yale College, 237 F. 3d 81 (2000)