Jury unanimously rules JONAH conversion therapy claims fraudulent

Yesterday, a New Jersey jury unanimously ruled that Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) committed fraud when it guaranteed to its clients that it could “cure” them of homosexuality and gave them falsified statistics on their record of “success.”

A New Jersey judge had already ruled that conversion therapy that claims homosexuality to be a mental disorder is itself fraudulent, and every major medical organization that has weighed in on the subject has held that such claims are both baseless and harmful. New Jersey became one of the first states in the country to outlaw conversion therapy for minors in 2013.

The way in which the trial was organized hinted that JONAH was in for an unfavorable ruling. During the trial, the group was not allowed to present “expert” testimony in the case, as the judge held that it is impossible to be an “expert” in conversion therapy before comparing their planned to testimony to “expert” testimony claiming that the earth was flat. What’s more, the jury was instructed in the case to rule in favor of the plaintiffs if they felt that JONAH had “described homosexuality even as something equivalent to a mental illness, disease, or disorder,” as that constitutes a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act.

It probably didn’t help that, earlier this month, a lawyer representing JONAH called the LGBT movement Satanic.

With respect to the second charge, that JONAH misrepresented its success rate, the defendants’ claims fell similarly flat. From Zach Ford at ThinkProgress:

Anti-conversion therapy protest, via Daniel Tobias / Flickr

Anti-conversion therapy protest, via Daniel Tobias / Flickr

Though the organization unsurprisingly had no solid numbers of its success rate, founder Arthur Goldberg admitted under oath to a “general success rate” which he described as “a third, a third, and a third” — a third saw substantial decreases in their same-sex attraction, a third went completely from gay to straight, and a third saw no change. In other words, JONAH’s sales pitch was a 67 percent success rate, a claim for which it had no foundation. JONAH’s witnesses regularly tried walk a line claiming that homosexuality was only disordered from a religious perspective but that the therapy itself was legitimate and not religious in nature; they failed.

As explained by SPLC staff attorney Sam Wolfe, quoted by Ford, religious freedom claims under the First Amendment are irrelevant when considering factual claims made under the auspices of (pseudo-) scientific practice:

This is not a freedom of religion case. It is unlawful to defraud vulnerable individuals and lure them with false promises of orientation change. The lie that individuals can change their sexual orientation if only they work hard enough and pay for enough “therapy” has harmed individuals, families, and religious communities for far too long.

The ruling paves the way for more plaintiffs subjected to ex-gay conversion therapy, more accurately described as abuse when forced on minors, to file similar lawsuits.

 


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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