Culture Ethics Institutions

Therapists who say gays can be cured are committing consumer fraud, NJ judge says

Participants gather during a rally celebrating the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling at Ilus W. Davis Park in Kansas City, Mo. on Wednesday (June 26, 2013). RNS photo by Sally Morrow
Gregory Quinlan, of Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays, testifies during a hearing of the New Jersey Senate health committee at the Statehouse in Trenton. The committee heard testimony on a bill that would ban counseling services designed to turn gay kids straight. Photo by John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger

Gregory Quinlan, of Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays, testifies during a hearing of the New Jersey Senate health committee at the Statehouse in Trenton. The committee heard testimony on a bill that would ban counseling services designed to turn gay kids straight. Photo by John O’Boyle/The Star-Ledger

TRENTON, N.J. (RNS) People who provide gay-to-straight conversion therapy are committing fraud if they describe homosexuality as a mental disorder that can be cured, said a state judge in a ruling civil rights group predicted would deal a serious blow to the treatment’s future across the nation.

The decision by state Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr., gives an edge to the four men and two parents suing Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH, accusing the Jersey City organization that promotes the treatment of violating New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.

The decision is bound to have a far-reaching impact, said David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center which brought the lawsuit.

“This ruling is monumental and devastating to the conversion therapy industry,” Dinelli said. “For the first time, a court has ruled that it is fraudulent as a matter of law for conversion therapists to tell clients that they have a mental disorder that can be cured. This is the principal lie the conversion therapy industry uses throughout the country to peddle its quackery to vulnerable clients.”

In his ruling last week Bariso wrote: “It is a misrepresentation in violation of the Consumer Fraud Act, in advertising or selling conversion therapy services to describe homosexuality, not as being a normal variation of human sexuality, but as being a mental illness, disease (or) disorder.”

The ruling also said conversion therapists could not advertise their “success rate” of turning people into heterosexuals because “there is no factual basis for calculating these statistics.”

Christopher Doyle, of the International Healing Foundation, testifies during a hearing of the New Jersey Senate health committee at the Statehouse in Trenton. The committee heard testimony on a bill that would ban counseling services designed to turn gay kids straight. Photo by John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger

Christopher Doyle, of the International Healing Foundation, testifies during a hearing of the New Jersey Senate health committee at the Statehouse in Trenton. The committee heard testimony on a bill that would ban counseling services designed to turn gay kids straight. Photo by John O’Boyle/The Star-Ledger

This is Bariso’s second ruling to favor the plaintiffs. The judge also barred the defense from calling several of the controversial treatment’s proponents as witnesses because they had planned to offer scientifically refuted testimony that homosexuality is an illness. In that ruling, he said: “The overwhelming weight of scientific authority concludes that homosexuality is not a disorder or abnormal.”

Charles LiMandri, president and chief counsel for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund that is representing JONAH, said he remains confident a jury will side with his clients “who were only trying to help people.”

JONAH never made money from the treatment, but rather referred clients to therapists who charged for their services, LiMandri said. At no time did they “advertise” success rates — estimated as one-third successful, one-third somewhat beneficial, and one-third unsuccessful, he said. “If they ask, they will be told. I don’t see that as a violation of the consumer fraud act.”

LiMandri said the therapists are not licensed and are often members of the clergy. They were not identifying being gay as a disorder “in a scientific sense,” he said.

“This is not a situation in which people are forced into something they don’t want to do. They are trying to deprive plaintiffs of freedom of choice. Americans want people to have the right to free self determination,” he added. “I believe when the jury hears all the facts. they will ultimately decide in favor of our clients.”

Arthur Goldberg, a co-director at JONAH who is also named in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the judge’s ruling. Alan Downing, a life coach and an unlicensed therapist who provides the treatment, is also named in the lawsuit.

Legal issues still remain when the case goes to trial this summer, Dinielli said.

“We also have alleged multiple additional violations of the Consumer Fraud Act — including that JONAH’s program taken as a whole is an unconscionable business practice,” according to an email from Dinielli. “We will go to trial to prove those additional violations and to obtain damages for our clients as well as an order preventing JONAH from continuing to offer its fraudulent program to the public.”

The plaintiffs in the case — Michael Ferguson, Benjamin Unger, Sheldon Bruck, Chaim Levin, Bella Levin and Jo Bruck — claim those went to the therapists were coerced into engaging in demeaning and emotionally damaging behavior, including having to strip naked and beat images of their mothers.

(Susan K. Livio writes for The Star-Ledger of New Jersey.)


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  • homosexual is a spiritual problem which needs spiritual solution … Deliverance is the only solution…

  • Ex Gay Therapy should come with the following warnings:

    “Warning, this treatment is in no way endorsed by any professional psychological organization and does not constitute mental help therapy in any way”

    “Warning, those entering such therapy will be paraded around for the benefit of conservative religious and political organizations for the purposes of attacking the civil liberties of gay people”

    “Warning, this therapy was created because various Bible thumpers do not have authority under our laws to imprison you or stone you to death”

    “Warning, you can get more beneficial results for your physical and mental well being from leaving your faith/sect for a more affirming one”

  • Judge Bariso wants to put you in JAIL for saying what you just said, Mr. Undule. No joke.

    You’re not supposed to say that homosexuality is a “problem” at all. You’re not supposed to say that there exists a solution to homosexualtity.

    You’re supposed to say that homosexuality is “a normal variation of human sexuality” just like Judge Bariso said. You’re supposed to tell people that homosexual behavior and gay marriage are all normal and moral. If you do NOT comply with these instructions, Judge Bariso is gonna throw the book on you.

    If you say that homosexuality is a problem and that an actual SOLUTION exists for that problem, then Judge Bariso says you’re guilty of “consumer fraud”. You wanna go to jail for what you said?

    So if YOUR pastor or your church does pastoral counseling with people, and he tells same-sex-afflicted people that 1 Cor 6:9-11 is true, and that the power of Jesus can heal, cleanse and deliver a person from the evil bondage of homosexuality, then YOUR PASTOR OR CHURCH is now guilty of violating “consumer fraud law” and somebody will go to jail. Maybe YOU !!!

    This is no joke. This is no sarcasm. Judge Bariso is seriously intending to do some legal harm to people of faith. This judge is as fanatical as ISIS on steroids.

  • Calm down, Doc. This isn’t about free speech. People – and churches – can continue to spout their favorite flavor of bigotry to their hearts content, but there must be truth in advertising. If individuals or organizations offer a service to someone and misrepresent facts about it in order to bring in clientele, it’s wrong. Or at least against the law. In other words, those inclined to do so can still say homosexuality is sinful and tell people they’re going to hell unless they undergo religious counseling and repent. They just can’t do so under the imprimatur of science.

  • I spent well over a decade desperately involved in “ex-gay conversion therapy” and immersed in a fundamentalist Christian world. I was a true believer. At 31, I had a girlfriend…but there I was, taking the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building and once I made it to the top, I planned on jumping. I just didn’t see a way out. My truth was abominable to the Church and shameful to my family should they ever find out. I’m encouraged by this development and hope my testimony can help lawmakers, religious leaders and parents understand that this practice is discredited and harmful and must be stopped before another kid jumps or steps in front of a moving train.
    Bryan Christopher
    Author “Hiding from Myself: A Memoir”

  • Why does that matter, Larry? Whether behavior is pathological or not is a moral and ethical question, not a social-scientific one. The statement of the judge quoted is simply non sequitur.

  • Same sex attraction is a spiritual sickness that affects the body, the mind and the spirit. Calling it anything else is a lie.

  • I don’t know what kind of therapy you went through but you can get help and overcome this disorder. Don’t let horror stories prevent you from getting actual treatment from qualified individuals. The worse thing you could ever do is surrender to your sinful desires.

  • No JC, it’s quite clear from the article itself that Judge Bariso is going a LOT farther than what you said. He’s **specifically** said it’s against the law to “…describe homosexuality, not as being a normal variation of human sexuality, but as being a mental illness, disease (or) disorder.”

    Check that out. His exact words.
    Bariso is saying that you HAVE to tell people seeking help, that homosexuality is “a normal variation of human sexuality.” You CANNOT even say the word “disorder” to describe homosexuality to people (but even the Official Cathechism Of The Catholic Church uses that exact term “disorder” to describe homosexuality).

    So you can now see that Judge Bariso has gone way beyond talking about “science” or professional therapy. His exact language, quoted above, means that he is effectively telling CHURCHES what they can or cannot say to those clients who seek healing and deliverance from homosexuality.

    That’s way extremist, JC. That DOES violate the constitutional freedoms of speech and religion. Bariso’s ruling is extremist and fanatical (That’s why I said what I said, Harry).

    Most of all, Bariso says that you CANNOT tell people that there exists some item or some avenues of treatment that will bring healing, freedom, and deliverance to the disorder of homosexuality. Yet the Bible SAYS that there is a Person who can heal up and clean up even homosexuality — the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

    So you can see once again, Judge Bariso has legally set it up where CHURCHES (not just “the conversion therapy industry”) can get legally punished just for saying and offering a Solution, offering Jesus’ healing and deliverance, to homosexuals seeking help. That’s the point.

  • Harry, the American Psychiatric Association decided in 1973 to no longer list homosexuality as a Mental Disorder. So now that we have that straight, we can agree with the Judge… but … wait a minute… that was only 42 years ago! … that means that before 1973 it was a mental disorder … Hmmm, that sounds like being consistently inconsistent. Tell you what, I am a bit old fashioned, so I’ll agree with the pre-1973 diagnosis.

  • Umm, Bariso just made his extremist ruling on Feb. 11th. Besides, the case will go to trial this summer. No time for anybody to have been jailed. Hopefully the jury will simply side with JONAH and defeat Judge Bariso.

    (Speaking of jail, it really wouldn’t hurt if, after finding JONAH innocent, the jury asked the Bailiff to arrest Judge Bariso and send him in cuffs — and leg irons too — straight to the ADX Federal Supermax in Colorado!!)

  • The Doc has a long-distance relationship with factual reality, which gives his posts a kind of intriguing fever-dream quality.

    His colorful jeremiads remind me quite a bit of the popular black pastor James David Manning, who claims in his sermons that Starbucks puts semen from gay men in its coffee.

  • Too bad not a single mental health professional organization considers any of this Ex-gay torture to be related to actual therapy.

    Free speech doesn’t cover fraud, false advertising or misleading claims. If people of faith feel the need to trick gays into undergoing torture, they will need to be more upfront and honest about it.

  • No. The only confused person is someone who thinks Ex-gay therapy is actual therapy. We both know it is not the case.

  • Making phony claims doesn’t matter?

    Encouraging the physical and mental torture of people to fit your religious agenda doesn’t matter?

    I guess it doesn’t matter to you. You appear to be supportive of religious based physical and mental abuse.

    Maybe if those Ex-gay ministries could be a bit honest in their approach and dropped any pretense of social-scientific value. But as I see it, the sole purpose of such things is merely to use as a political tool to attack civil liberties of gays for a religious agenda. .

  • Because human beings learn, Greg. Surely you know more today than you did ten years ago, and you can exercise your prerogative to change your mind on the basis of your new(er) knowledge. Or would doing so be inconsistent?

    Be as old fashioned as you like, but unless you’ve got some legitimate research for the mental health community to consider, it doesn’t matter, does it?

  • Context matters, Doc. This is about organizations – including maybe churches – purporting to offer “reparative therapy” under the rubric of providing mental health services. Religious considerations of what constitutes a “sin” need not, and indeed do not, carry any weight in this context.

    You’ll note (without a shred of irony given your insistence on exact wording, no doubt) the exact language you quoted explicitly makes clear the issue is implying medical legitimacy. It’s simply not up to these organizations – or individuals – to define what constitutes a mental illness or disorder. So, if someone seeks help (I’m sure they exist given remaining social stigmas and pressures), an organization offering “healing, freedom, and deliverance” from homosexuality simply can’t pretend the mental health community backs them up.

    You cite the Bible as if it has anything to do with it. It doesn’t. In fact, it illustrates the problem nicely. The opinion of the clergy and lay religious types only matters in a religious context, not medical. Hence, the judge rightly decided against organizations peddling nonsense as if it were medical fact.

    IANAL, but it seems to boil down in technical terms to the distinction between commercial and non-commercial speech. Even non-profit organizations are legally commercial actors if they offer goods or services, and can run afoul of the law if they offer misleading claims.

    Bottom line, it’s about truth in advertising. I suggest putting away needless fears about jackbooted thugs policing your Pastor’s sermons. This ruling has no impact on religious invectives against homosexuality as a sin from which a person may find spiritual “healing, freedom, and deliverance.”

  • Frankie, NO ex-gay therapist is considered a qualified individual.Pretending it is any type of therapy is dishonest claptrap.

    Don’t you know it makes little baby Jesus cry when you lie so obviously?

  • JC, Gay is a mental disorder because it violates the natural law. It would be like a species of dog going extinct because the males suddenly changed their natural order of attraction for females, and instead, began having sex exclusively with other males, and not the females. In the end, there would be a cry from anyone and everyone to do everything we can to find out what is wrong; people proclaiming that we can’t just sit idly by and watch them go extinct. We’d be looking at their food, the air they breathe, their nurturing habitat, all said, we’d be investigating just about every cause for their change from the natural order of nature. So no, I am not really old fashioned, I’m just logical. Homosexuality is a disorder, and can never be normalized.

  • Nice write up Julian. To me I have no issue with homosexuals who stay to themselves, but when they begin to try to “normalize” their behavior, through state and federal law, getting adoption rights for young children, then that is where I draw the line. I’ve seen first hand children raised by homosexual couples, and it is very apparent that they themselves are very confused. The boys running around with purple hair, and dressed like girls. We must remember both nature and nurture affects our psyche.

  • Nope. Not persuasive. Homosexuality is quite common in nature, and to my knowledge not a single species has gone extinct because of it. Not even us, despite homosexuality having been a part of the human experience since before the beginning of written history.

    I’m guessing you aren’t in the mental health profession. If you want to call it a spiritual disorder or affliction you’re within your rights to do so. But you are quite simply wrong about it being a mental disorder as defined in the medical community. Get over it.

  • “Maybe if those Ex-gay ministries could be a bit honest in their approach and dropped any pretense of social-scientific value…”

    So Larry, since you are confident that there is no “social-scientific value” in any ex-gay ministries, can you explain to me (based on the scientific method) why the following article should NOT have been published in a respected peer-review science journal?

    “A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation”, by Dr. Stanton Jones and Dr. Mark Yarhouse

    Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 2011;37(5):404-27.


    Umm….thanks in advance for your explanation! 🙂

  • The judge found it to be a violation of the NJ consumer fraud law for the defendants, a nonprofit that charged for its services and allegedly gave guarantees of successful change, to have done what was alleged. He didn’t say it’s “against the law” for anyone, like a pastor, to say that homosexuality is a “disorder.” The consumer fraud issue is only one of several in the lawsuit and one of the few on which the judge granted summary judgment, meaning that he found as a matter of law that for JONAH to make the stated claims was a violation of the consumer fraud law. In fact, the judge is allowing the defendants to assert a First Amendment defense, and also is allowing other fraud defenses like puffery/sales talk, and “change” in the context of a person with same-sex attraction could mean choosing not to act on the attraction. Finally, this is a civil case. No one is going to jail.

  • Well, I don’t know about any “jackbooted thugs” (although I generally don’t put **anything** past the GLAAD and the ACLU).

    But the fact is that Judge Bariso’s decision is aimed at a RELIGIOUS organization (Jewish) that in fact “never made money from the treatment”, nor treated anybody themselves, and never advertised any “success rates”, mentioning the rate issue only if directly asked by the clients themselves.

    So needless to say, if Judge Bariso gets away with aiming the penalty of law and jail at a Jewish religious organization under those circumstances, the Christian Churches (whose Bibles already say that Jesus Christ can heal and deliver people from homosexuality, see 1 Cor. 6:9-11) would become the AUTOMATIC next legal targets for the same Bariso decision.

    That’s why the SPLC lawyer said that Bariso’s decision is “far-reaching.” It’s not just a gay activist weapon against Jewish organizations, it’s a gay activist weapon against Christian organizations (and churches) as well.

    I think you would agree with that much, wouldn’t you?

  • Gosh, I had never heard that rumor about Starbucks, Pan. Thanks for sharing!

    Meanwhile, everybody needs a hobby, and Colorful Jeremiads are just as good as most, I reckon. RNS helps me to stay warmed up.

  • To be fair, Greg, plenty of purple-haired boys can be found in heterosexual homes as well, where you probably can see old franken-family photos of grandpa and grandma at Woodstock getting high, along with old McGovern buttons and film footage of Great Uncle John shouting down a speaker at Berkeley and throwing eggs (or worse) at his wife.

  • You speak a if no harm is done to homosexuals. Who suffers when your very existence is legislated against and in fact from Nazi Germany to Uganda hysteria promotes imprisonment or exicution. Google Scott Lively. He’s circling the globe with that message and in fact initiated ‘Kill the Gays’ legislation abroad.

  • I agree the ruling has potentially far reaching implications, yes. One of which is to further clarify the somewhat fraught distinction between commercial and non-commercial speech I alluded to before. To my mind, however, this is all to the good because it undercuts attempts to manipulate or goad potential customers by lying to them about the medical efficacy and necessity of any treatment predicated on religious dogma.

    Whether an organization charges for the services they offer or not is beside the point. Such organizations must still live up to their responsibilities as service providers, i.e., commercial actors, by being honest with their potential clients. If a church, synagogue, mosque, or some other ministry organization offers religious counseling, it’s one thing. If any of them purport to offer treatment regimes under the rubric of medical science, however, it’s another.

    Again, you reference the Bible as if it carries (or should carry) any legal or scientific weight on this issue. It really, really doesn’t, and it really, really shouldn’t for reasons I think should be obvious. You and anyyone else with a mind to can sermonize, write op-eds, blogs, and letters to the editor, and stand on street corners from which you can rail endlessly against the “evils” of homosexuality, using the Bible as your foundation. And though I disagree with you and name it bigotry, I support your right to do so.

    It’s really not a hard concept to grasp if you let go of the fear mongering over gay activism. People are people, and expect to be treated with equal dignity and fairness under the law. And they expect not to be lied to or mislead by service providers. Is this really so objectionable?

  • Sorry Tony, the report doesn’t say what you think it did.
    “Jones and Yarhouse did not report “complete change in orientation.” Instead they cautioned against misinterpreting their findings by saying”

    The studies showed that the subjects behaved differently according to social pressures. Behavior modification, not change in orientation. Their work was shot to crap when all of the subjects subsequently denied their orientation was ever changed.

    The other part of it is, if real studies existed, they would have been brought in as expert evidence for the defendants. But it wasn’t. Such nonsense was refuted by the professional authorities in the field in the case. If you don’t bring your best expert evidence to the fore at a trial, you don’t get to claim expert opinion supports you.

    Tough crap.

  • Greg, the plural of anectdote is not evidence. You claims about gay parents are not anything one has to take seriously as evidence of anything.

  • JC I don’t have to call it a disorder; the American Psychiatric Association AND Sigmund Freud already has. The APA declassified it as a disorder mostly because of the gay protests of the 1970’s. And it was actually done by panel vote, and not as the result of any scientific study.

  • Jack, I understand your position; however, our once healthy society continues to erode. I used to be a little more forgiving in this regard, but over the years I have seen the results of this experiment, and have come to the conclusion that when raising children, boys need to be treated like boys, and girls like girls. That is the nurture element in the development of the person’s psyche. Today we have very confused children, who remain confused well into their 20’s. It is only through the school of hard knocks that wakes many of them up. Today’s world and its approach to the family will be a passing moment in time when all will look back as the model to avoid. As the Catholic Church has emphatically trumpeted throughout the ages, work hard, give more than you receive, and keep God in the center of your life & family. When those are kept in place, a relatively peaceful societal order follows. What’s the old motto? An idle mind is the devil’s workshop? Well the fact that we have to lock our homes each time we leave them is a testament to that old adage.

  • “Deliverance is the only solution…”

    Not according to Christianity:

    “The only cure for homosexuals is that they be put to death”
    – Pastor Robbie Gallaty, Tennessee Megachurch, Sept 4, 2014

    I think the world will be dramatically improved the minute people stop believing in this garbage.

  • Frank,

    You are correct that your God demands death to Gays.

    Christians are obligated to follow orders (like Nazis) without questioning any of it.
    To questions the Bible is to engage in Blasphemy – and you are too ‘good’ of a Christian to do that.

    “Kill Homosexuals” – Yahweh (Leviticus 20:13)

    God said it, so it must be true.
    By the way – if you follow your ‘godly’ heart you will be put in jail or worse.

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