Court did not rule JONAH violated state’s Consumer Fraud Act
Jersey City, N.J. – Contrary to several media reports, a New Jersey court has not ruled that a counseling referral service that provides help to people with unwanted same-sex attraction has violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act or that faith-based counselors violate the act when they express their views. The court did not make any findings of fact and preserved the First Amendment defenses of JONAH, the counseling referral service sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Ferguson v. JONAH.
Although the court accepted SPLC’s argument that describing homosexuality as a mental illness or mental disorder would constitute a Consumer Fraud Act violation, the court made clear in its decision Tuesday that “a jury could find, based on evidence presented at trial, that JONAH represented homosexuality not as a mental disorder, but as ‘disordered’ and prohibited by its religion. First Amendment protections would be applicable in this latter situation. Consequently, JONAH’s…defense is not stricken.”
“Americans have a constitutionally protected freedom to decide how they want to live or change their lives, and that includes what counseling they wish to receive,” said Charles LiMandri, lead attorney for JONAH. “This decision doesn’t change any of that for the people whom JONAH has served. We are confident that a jury will not shut down their freedom to voluntarily seek help from a religious nonprofit like JONAH if they so choose.”
Significantly, Judge Peter Bariso of the New Jersey Superior Court also denied SPLC’s motion for partial summary judgment on the primary issue in the lawsuit – whether JONAH misrepresented whether they can help clients “change” their unwanted same-sex attractions. The court correctly held “that an average juror could find ‘change’ to mean choosing not to act on homosexual desires, and instead acting only on heterosexual desires.”
The court further held that a reasonable juror could conclude “that JONAH used the term ‘change’ to simply mean consumers could disengage from their homosexual desires.”
The case will be tried before a jury this summer.
Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund is a nonprofit, public-interest law firm which defends the conscience rights and religious freedom of those of all faiths and no faith. The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund’s mission is to defend religious freedom by providing protective legal services at the trial level to persons whose religious liberty and free-speech rights have been attacked. Located in San Diego and led by experienced trial attorney Charles LiMandri, FCDF assists individuals and organizations nationwide with pro bono services.
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