Gay 'Conversion' Therapists Could Be Liable for Damages, N.J. Judge Rules

Orthodox Groups Defend Controversial Treatment in Lawsuit

By Hody Nemes

Published June 17, 2014.
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A New Jersey judge has ruled that a Jewish gay “conversion” group could be liable for the costs of reversing the damage it caused four young men while trying to curb their same-sex attraction.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso, Jr. ruled that Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) and its co-defendants could have to pay three times the amount the youths paid for subsequent standard therapy to repair the psychological damage they allege JONAH inflicted upon them.

“These self-proclaimed experts inflicted grave damage upon our clients, who believed JONAH’s claims that it could ‘cure’ them of being gay,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which brought the suit, in a statement. “These young men were left with guilt, shame and frustration. No amount of money can fix the damage JONAH caused, but recognizing that JONAH can be held accountable for the cost of repairing that damage is an important step.”

The ruling is part of an ongoing lawsuit filed against JONAH in 2012 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group. The suit charges that JONAH, its founder, Arthur Goldberg, and counselor Alan Downing violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act by misrepresenting the group’s services and falsely claiming that it could “cure” patients of homosexuality.

The former clients allege in the suit that JONAH instructed them to engage in psychologically damaging activities, like stripping naked during therapy sessions and touching their genitals.

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JONAH, however, has denied using coercive or abusive techniques on its clients. Mental health and medical professional associations have overwhelmingly rejected reparative therapy as ineffective, damaging, or both. Jewish communal groups have also widely condemned the therapy, with some exceptions in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox community. The Rabbinical Council of America, the largest association of Modern Orthodox rabbis in the U.S., withdrew its support of JONAH in November 2012 and recognized “the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation.”

The ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization Agudath Israel has defended reparative therapy, and fought against a New Jersey law which bans the practice.

The case is expected to go to trial in early 2015.

Contact Hody Nemes at nemes@forward.com or on Twitter @hodifly


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