Yale University has an endowment of $29.4 billion. It also receives in excess of $480 million in federal grants and contracts. Yet, Yale Law School denies aid to students who choose to work for faith-based organizations during the summer. As a private institution, Yale may be entitled to discriminate on the basis of religion; however, under federal policy, federal contractors and grant recipients may not.
It all started with an email from a student group with an ideological axe to grind against Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Over the years, ADF has gained a reputation for excellent advocacy before the U.S. Supreme Court. Simultaneously, ADF is infamous in the eyes of its detractors for some of its legal positions taken.
A student group demanded that Yale Law School end any financial assistance to those students who choose to intern or work for faith-based organizations like ADF. Yale complied. Its new policy withholds financial assistance to students choosing to work or intern for religious organizations that hire individuals of the same faith.
That led U.S. Senators Cruz, Hawley, and Cassidy to raise appropriate concerns. Now, Senator Cruz, chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, has opened an investigation, questioning whether Yale’s new policy runs afoul of President Trump’s Executive Order (EO) designed to improve “Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities.”
According to the EO, the various federal agencies administering grants and contracts to the nation’s top institutions of higher learning are to, “take appropriate steps ... to ensure institutions that receive Federal research or education grants promote free inquiry, including through compliance with all applicable Federal laws, regulations, and policies.”
Yale Law School’s new policy of “no stipends for religious work” violates this EO. Although styled as a non-discrimination policy, the circumstances prompting the policy change make clear that it is intended to institutionalize discrimination against faith-based organizations (and faith-based students) whenever a faith-based commitment conflicts with the preferred social values of Yale Law School.
United States taxpayers should not subsidize that decision with nearly a half billion dollars in aid. Religious organizations provide tremendous value to the citizens of this country. Yale’s policy treats them as a scourge.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained some years ago that religious organizations “are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.” Yale’s announced policy of treating its students employed by religious organizations with anything less than equality undermines the commitment to religious liberty announced by federal law and policy.
That includes federal contracts and grants. As General Sessions explained to the executive branch agencies administering the very grants/contracts that Yale receives:
Religious organizations are entitled to compete on equal footing for federal financial assistance used to support government programs. Such organizations generally may not be required to alter their religious character to participate in a government program, nor to cease engaging in explicitly religious activities outside the program, nor effectively to relinquish their federal statutory protections for religious hiring decisions.
While these directives are aimed at the protection of federal contractors — like Yale University, who receives hundreds of millions of federal taxpayer dollars in federal contracts annually — the refusal to extend the same spirit of equality toward religious organizations (and students) with private dollars that are subsidized by the federal taxpayer violates the spirit of the law, if not the precise letter.
Sessions is not alone. The justices of the Supreme Court themselves have repeatedly warned against the very religious hostility that Yale exhibits here. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and Sch. v. EEOC, for instance, Justice Samuel Alito observed, “Throughout our Nation's history, religious bodies have been the preeminent example of private associations that have acted as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the State.”
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, explained that excluding religious organizations from a public benefit for which they would be eligible if they were otherwise secular is “odious to our Constitution.” It is likewise “odious” to deny financial assistance to students who intern or work for a religious organization where that same assistance is doled out for students working for secular organizations
If, according to former Justice Anthony Kennedy writing in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm’n, the “government has no role in deciding or even suggesting whether the religious ground for [a citizen’s] conscience-based objection is legitimate or illegitimate,” then neither should federal contractor/grant recipient Yale University.
Perhaps the federal agencies funding the $400+ million in Yale’s grants/contracts should follow Senator Cruz’s outstanding leadership and join his investigation.
Either Yale can use its own $29.4 billion endowment to discriminate against its religious students or it can abide by the non-discrimination provisions of its $400+ million in federal grants/contracts. It cannot do both.