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Gay-to-straight conversion therapy group committed consumer fraud, jury finds

Benjamin Unger listens to the defense’s closing statement in the trial of Ferguson v. JONAH. In a first-of-its-kind trial, five people sued the gay conversion therapy organization JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) for consumer fraud. Photo by Alex Remnick | NJ Advance Media
Benjamin Unger listens to the defense's closing statement in the trial of Ferguson vs. JONAH. In a first-of-its-kind trial, four former clients are suing the gay conversion therapy organization, JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing), for consumer fraud. Photo by Alex Remnick | NJ Advance Media

Benjamin Unger listens to the defense’s closing statement in the trial of Ferguson v. JONAH. In a first-of-its-kind trial, five people sued the gay conversion therapy organization JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) for consumer fraud. Photo by Alex Remnick | NJ Advance Media

(RNS) A New Jersey jury found a gay-to-straight conversion therapy organization guilty of consumer fraud in state Superior Court on Thursday (June 25).

Three gay men and two parents sued JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, saying that it made gross misrepresentations in the sale and advertisement of its program and that it constituted an unconscionable commercial practice.

After just two and a half hours of deliberations, the seven-person jury awarded the five plaintiffs $72,400 in damages for individual and group therapy sessions in which clients were asked to undress and touch themselves in their therapists’ presence and beat effigies of their mothers with a tennis racket.

The plaintiffs claimed that JONAH; its directors, Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Berk; and one of its counselors, Alan Downing, violated New Jersey consumer fraud law by misrepresenting JONAH as scientifically based.

James Bromley delivers closing arguments for the plaintiffs in the trial Ferguson vs. JONAH. In a first-of-its-kind trial, four former clients are suing the gay conversion therapy organization, JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing), for consumer fraud. Photo by Alex Remnick | NJ Advance Media

James Bromley delivers closing arguments for the plaintiffs in the trial Ferguson v. JONAH. In a first-of-its-kind trial, five people sued the gay conversion therapy organization JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) for consumer fraud. Photo by Alex Remnick | NJ Advance Media

“My clients needed help,” said James Bromley, a lawyer from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented the plaintiffs. “They went to JONAH. JONAH lied, and JONAH made it worse.”

The defense argued that JONAH’s ideology and methods were both scientific and based on Jewish values.

In February, Judge Peter Bariso ruled that it was a violation of the consumer fraud act to call homosexuality a mental illness or disorder. This was the first time such a ruling was made in a United States court.

In 2013, New Jersey joined California to outlaw licensed therapists from providing conversion therapy to minors. Oregon and Washington, D.C., have also passed such legislation. Last month, a bill was introduced in Congress that would classify commercial conversion therapy and advertising that claims to change sexual orientation and gender identity as fraud.

The Southern Poverty Law Center defense team reacts in front of the courthouse after a New Jersey jury found a gay-to-straight conversion therapy organization guilty of consumer fraud in state Superior Court on Thursday (June 25, 2015). Photo by Rachel Benaim

The Southern Poverty Law Center defense team reacts in front of the courthouse after a New Jersey jury found a gay-to-straight conversion therapy organization guilty of consumer fraud in state Superior Court on Thursday (June 25, 2015). Photo by Rachel Benaim

Chaim Levin, one of the gay men who sued, said he was subjected to reliving his sexual abuse as a way to heal his homosexuality. Levin was asked to remove his clothes in front of a mirror as a way to rectify “body shame,” while his counselor stood behind him and watched. Downing, his counselor, instructed him to touch “his manhood.”

The defense claimed that their methods — including the “journey into manhood” weekends — were scientific and did in fact help the people who “put in the work.” They brought in witnesses to testify to the success of these exercises.

JONAH lawyers used verses from the Bible to bolster their case. They also evoked their clients’ First Amendment rights to treat homosexuality as a spiritual disorder.

The jury was just unconvinced.

While leaving the courtroom, Goldberg said: “We hope to be exonerated upon appeal. This is not justice.”

(Susan K. Livio of The Star-Ledger contributed to this report.)

YS/MG END BENAIM

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Rachel Delia Benaim

15 Comments

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  • “……A New Jersey jury found a gay-to-straight conversion therapy organization guilty of consumer fraud…..”

    The most highly qualified approach for gay-to-straight conversion therapy is a good looking young lady with lots of grace, charm, intelligence, very giving, devoted and loving. Nothing beats the real thing.

  • That’s funny, bbq.

    I can’t believe they uses the Torah in defense. Is there a conversion therapy for non-kosher to kosher in the Orthodox world?

  • “You’re mother let you eat bacon. She represents this pillow. Beat her with a tennis racket!” LOL!

  • This is awesome. If the anti-Christians try their vitriol game in this article towards the JONAH group, they’ll be called anti-Semites.

    LOL

    Time to sit back and enjoy the show.

    Now, I wonder why this group didn’t advise the method prescribed in the Torah to end homosexuality?

    This is rich!

  • Objectifying women hardly seems like a good approach to “fixing” anything. Wasn’t it the reduction of people to singular qualities that may/may not accurately describe them that got you guys to this impasse to begin with?

  • It’s a terrible notion built on other not-so-great notions. And someone is trying to call JONAH on the floor for it. What’s anti-semitic about criticizing a poorly-formed idea, BB?

  • Thank you thank you thank you for finally admitting that it isn’t religious belief that motivates you, but out and out hate and despite.

    A Levitical solution indeed!

    I am going to enjoy my day so much more knowing that not only have we won marriage equality in 50 states, not only Will there be general weeping, Wailing, and gnashing of teeth, but that those who are truly motivated by hate are finally going to announce themselves for the bigots we have always known them to be, no matter how much they hide behind “God says.”

    So, be brave! Tremble in your fear!! And someday perhaps you will wake up, and realize this hasn’t have the slightest effect upon you, except to make you unhappy. And that makes ME So, be brave!

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah!!!!!!!!!!

  • I am waiting for a disgraced anti-gay pundit to claim, “I was kidnapped and people used therapy that turned me gay!”

  • Larry, there isn’t a single one of these anti-gay bigots that I would ever want to see you come out as gay.

    Except that I am completely convinced that the Bulk of our opposition as always been the homosexual hating has always been the homosexual waiting on the sections homosexuals. And I thoroughly expect to see a lot of them come out over the years, Except for those whowere caught with their heads down the cookie jars pants.

  • Dammit, my iPad struck again. It should have read:

    The bulk of our opposition has always been homosexual hating homosexuals

  • Ted Haggard was coming to mind. If he was more creative, I could have imagined him trying that excuse on after he got caught in his compromising situation.

    If these nabobs believe you can torture someone into being straight, then they must logically think you can do the reverse. Of course that was assuming that such people ever thought through things logically. Not a good assumption to make.

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