In 2015, a New Jersey judge ruled that a group called Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) was guilty of consumer fraud. They were selling “conversion therapy” — the faith-based scam that claims gay people can magically turn straight — for more than $10,000. By telling potential clients that they had a mental disorder that could be “cured,” they were defrauding the public. The judge also said that JONAH lied when claiming a high success rate since “client outcomes are not tracked and no records of client outcomes are maintained.”
It was a monumental ruling against an organization that actively harmed gay people, and it was memorable because the ruling went after the group’s business ethics — or lack thereof.
Instead of shutting down, however, JONAH quietly rebranded as the Jewish Institute for Global Awareness (JIFGA) and continued promoting conversion therapy. The “therapy” in question involved clients taking off their clothes in front of each other and “pummeling effigies of their mothers as part of a program that promised it could eliminate same-sex attraction.”
In 2019, Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. of the New Jersey Superior Court, the same judge who ruled against JONAH in 2015, issued another ruling against JIFGA, ordering them to shut down for good and pay a heavy fine.
The 2015 settlement included a clause awarding the plaintiffs $3.5 million in legal fees. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center at the time, “The plaintiffs agreed to accept an undisclosed portion of that award, but the defendants will be liable for the full amount if they violate the agreement.” (We now know the portion was $400,000.)
They violated the agreement. So they had to pay up.
And now there’s more good news: Despite an appeal from JONAH’s founders Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Berk, a three-judge panel of New Jersey’s Appellate Division court has affirmed the earlier ruling.
The trial court found that Goldberg and Berk violated the Injunction Order and Settlement Agreement by continuing to refer people to conversion therapy. The record supports that finding. From late December 2015 to late May 2018, there were numerous email exchanges in which Goldberg, and to a lesser extent Berk, communicated with people seeking conversion therapy and therapists providing conversion therapy. They also followed up to ensure that they received referral fees.
As NJ.com notes, the judges found no reason to overturn the earlier decision.
As we’ve said before, conversion therapy has been dismissed as unethical and ineffective by every reputable doctor and scientist. Homosexuality can’t be — and doesn’t need to be — “cured.”
Let’s hope this ruling frightens copycats from attempting the methods on their own.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)