JONAH: Another Victory for the Homosexual Activists
By Allyson Smith
In a shocking defeat for religious liberty, a New Jersey jury has found a small Jewish counseling organization that offers referrals for people conflicted by same-sex attraction issues guilty of consumer fraud.
The verdict against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, or JONAH, was handed down June 25 after the little non-profit was sued by the radical $340 million dollar Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) “for providing resources for men and women with unwanted same-sex attractions desiring appropriate assistance to lead a life consistent with their religious beliefs,” according to a press release from San Diego-based Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF), the public interest law firm that defended JONAH.
According to NJ.com:
In the first case in the nation to put the controversial practice on trial, the jury concluded that Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Berk, the founders of Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing in Jersey City and life coach Alan Downing to whom JONAH referred patients, “engaged in unconscionable commercial practices” and misrepresented their services.
The verdict requires JONAH and Downing to refund thousands of dollars paid by former clients Michael Ferguson, Benjamin Unger, Sheldon Bruck, Chaim Levin, and parents Jo Bruck and Bella Levin for the individual and group counseling sessions and the “journey into manhood” weekends in the woods.
Downing charged $60 to $100 for group and individual sessions but shared 20 percent with JONAH to help defray its administrative costs. After three hours of deliberations, the jury found Unger was entitled to $17,950; Chaim Levin was entitled to $650; his mother, Bella, $4,000; and Bruck’s mother, Jo, $500.
“This is a sad day, not just for my clients, but for America: Our freedom to choose to live according to Biblical values is being restricted by powerful forces, which in this case included the refusal to allow highly qualified expert witnesses to testify that change is possible for many people,” said Chuck LiMandri, president of FCDF and lead counsel for JONAH. “All of us can control our sexual behavior and each of us has not only the right but the obligation to decide what is right and wrong about our behavior. Here’s the good news though: We will continue this fight for core American values, including the freedom of traditional believers to live as free and equal citizens in this great country. This case is not over and we will seek justice on appeal.”
“Seeking counseling is a very private and personal decision people make. Coercive tactics that attempt to shut down choice are antithetical to a country founded in religious tolerance,” added FCDF board chairman Maggie Gallagher. “The SPLC has bullied individuals into silence and counselors are afraid to help those who need it.”
During the trial, which began June 3 in Jersey City, the JONAH defendants were pitted against “SPLC’s claims that JONAH committed consumer fraud by supposedly guaranteeing four former clients that they could go from ‘gay’ to ‘straight’ in 2-4 years,” wrote Christopher Doyle, director of the International Healing Foundation. “SPLC recruited these clients to sue JONAH in what has become another installment in the nationwide effort to prevent individuals with unwanted same-sex attractions from accessing counseling.”
During the first two weeks of the trial, it seemed that SPLC’s case was “unraveling at the seams,” according to Doyle. He cited one instance where the plaintiff’s expert witness, Dr. Carol Bernstein, a well-known psychiatrist and vice chair of the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, conceded under cross-examination by LiMandri that “sexual orientation is fluid and can change.”
“Additionally,” continued Doyle, “when asked about the particular type of counseling, psychodrama, that JONAH uses in its practice, Dr. Bernstein replied that it was not a well-respected counseling modality, despite that fact that Columbia University, where she attended, offers a course for undergraduate students on the method, a fact of which she was unaware.”
Doyle recounted several other “holes” in SPLC’s case:
- Benjamin Unger, one of the clients who claimed he was harmed by JONAH’s counseling, testified on the stand that he was a virgin, yet when cross-examined, he was confronted with the fact that in his initial client intake documents, he had stated he had been having oral and anal sex since he was sixteen years old.
- Plaintiff and former JONAH client Chaim Levin said he was distressed by the counseling he underwent, yet multiple times during his counseling he wrote enthusiastically of the help he was receiving, so much so that he wanted to become a public spokesman for JONAH as a testimony of change.
- Another client’s mother, Jo Bruck, was forced to admit that JONAH never made any guarantee that her son would go from “gay” to “straight” when it was brought to her attention that she signed an informed consent document that expressly said there was no guarantee, and that she initialed several paragraphs, one of which discussed the controversial nature of JONAH’s services and that there was no guarantee of success.
Doyle continued, “Yet, while the plaintiffs have been permitted to call expert witnesses who seemingly know nothing about the practice against which they are testifying, Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso disqualified several well-known mental health practitioners, including me, from testifying simply because we offer scientifically refused testimony (or practice under the premise) that homosexuality is a mental disorder and, for some, may change.”
Judge Bariso appeared to signal bias against JONAH early on. A year ago, according to a Think Progress article, “JONAH sought a summary judgment to dismiss the claims for the post-JONAH therapy, but New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. denied the request Friday, explaining that he thinks there’s a case to be made that the organization is liable. Assuming the truth of the plaintiffs’ experiences, Bariso wrote, ‘JONAH’s conversion therapy damaged the individuals it was meant ‘to cure,’ and thus ‘any subsequent costs of repairing Plaintiff’s mental or emotional health are the direct and proximate result of JONAH’s actions and, hence, should be borne by JONAH.’”
In February of this year, Judge Bariso excluded several experts willing to testify on the defendants’ behalf, including Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Christopher Doyle, Dr. James Phelan and Dr. John Diggs because “their opinions are based on the false premise that homosexuality is a disorder,” according to an SPLC press release. Bariso also implied that those witnesses were “flat-earthers,” opining that “the theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but – like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it – instead is outdated and refuted.”
In a scathing press release following the verdict, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (NYCF), a statewide public policy organization that represents New York’s evangelical Christian community, wrote:
Today, a jury incorrectly found that JONAH has violated New Jersey’s consumer fraud laws, and directed JONAH to return thousands of dollars in fees. The plaintiffs now seek an injunction that would put JONAH out of business (the true goal of this sham proceeding), as well as attorneys’ fees that could total millions of dollars.
NYCF executive director Rev. Jason J. McGuire commented:
The jury’s verdict in the JONAH case is completely and utterly baseless. It is based on a lie: The lie that sexual orientation change is impossible. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a once-proud civil rights organization that now acts as nationwide speech police on behalf of the extremist wing of the LGBT movement, has used this lawsuit to censor those who help others who seek such change. Those who view matters of sexual orientation differently than the SPLC does have every right to offer their perspectives—and their help—to others who seek change without being found liable based upon misapplied consumer fraud theories. New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. should be held partly responsible for this miscarriage of justice, as his unfair pretrial rulings hindered JONAH’s ability to defend itself against the SPLC’s bullying, ideologically-motivated allegations.
Contrary to today’s jury verdict, sexual orientation change efforts are not fraudulent; rather, research indicates that such efforts can be helpful and effective for people who are motivated to pursue them. When it comes to young people and change therapy, the state should follow principles of professional therapy availability, client autonomy, and parental involvement. Forbidding mental health professionals in New York from offering help and hope to teens with unwanted same-sex attraction does not protect anyone.
From reports we have seen on the JONAH show trial in New Jersey, it appears to us that the Southern Poverty Law Center and its allies are filled with hatred and contempt for JONAH and for the individuals that they have unjustly smeared in this litigation. JONAH and its allies should take solace in the words of the late Czech philosopher Vaclav Havel: ‘Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate.’ While truth and love did not prevail today, the struggle is not over.
In a June 26 International Healing Foundation press release, Christopher Doyle wrote:
[The] guilty verdict for JONAH is the consequence of liberal judicial bias. Before and during the trial, Judge Peter Bariso stripped JONAH of so many opportunities to really defend themselves, disqualifying five of the six expert witnesses for the defendants because their opinions contradicted the so-called mainstream view that same-sex attractions are not at all disordered, even if a client is distressed by these unwanted sexual feelings because of their sincerely held religious and spiritual beliefs. The judge’s bias against religious freedom was so ruthless that he even refused to allow JONAH’s chief attorney to mention the First Amendment freedom of religion in his closing argument. This verdict sends a chilling message to anyone of faith who either offers counseling or wants to receive counseling to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions.
In a June 27 telephone interview, FCDF’s LiMandri said, “We don’t feel that our clients received a fair trial because of the restrictions that the court placed on their religious liberty defense and the exclusion of the testimony of the defense experts. Therefore, we look forward to our clients ultimately receiving justice on appeal.”
FCDF seeks donations to help with the ongoing legal costs of this case. Donate at http://www.consciencedefense.org/donate-to-fcdf.
Allyson Smith is a technical communication professional who writes from San Diego. She has been involved in Catholic and pro-family activism for many years. Allyson’s freelance writings have been published by Christian and conservative news outlets including California Catholic Daily (formerly San Diego News Notes), WorldNetDaily.com, and Concerned Women for America.
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