GLORIA.TV EXCLUSIVE - JONAH case: “This agenda-driven show trial made a mockery of justice”
What is JONAH?
JONAH stands for Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, a now defunct Jewish non-profit organization, which offered conversion therapy for people who desire to be healed from unwanted homosexual attractions and desire to lead a life consistent with their religious beliefs.
Why was JONAH eventually shut down?
All started with a lawsuit, which was filed against JONAH by the so-called Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). This is a legal advocacy organization, specializing in radical causes. They targeted JONAH as the first victim of a campaign to stop people from getting help for unwanted same-sex attractions. The SPLC are extremist bullies who are notorious for classifying traditional values organizations as "hate groups". They had over a dozen activist lawyers on the case and a war chest of over $280 million.
Of what was JONAH convicted?
On June 25, 2015, in the first-ever trial of conversion therapy in the United States, a New Jersey jury found JONAH guilty of consumer fraud for promising to be able to change its client’s sexual urges and determined its commercial practices to be unconscionable.
The Consumer Fraud statutes were enacted to prevent shoddy products like hair dye that makes your hair fall out. They were not enacted and have never been used in New Jersey for purely ideological purposes against a nonprofit organization. This is a misuse of these laws to promote a political agenda and has nothing to do with protecting consumers.
What are the consequences of this conviction for JONAH?
On December 18, 2015, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. granted a permanent injunction after an agreement by both parties requiring JONAH to shut down entirely and prohibiting founder Arthur Goldberg and counselor Alan Downing from engaging in any form of conversion therapy commerce in New Jersey.
What does this mean?
This requires JONAH to shut down all of its operations within 30 days after the order is entered. Its websites and online listservs must be removed. The defendants will pay the full $72,400 in damages awarded by the jury to compensate the plaintiffs for the fees they paid to JONAH. The proposed judgment includes a $3.5 million award of legal fees. The plaintiffs agreed to accept an undisclosed portion of that award, but the defendants will be liable for the full amount if they violate the agreement. JONAH also will have to liquidate its assets and permanently dissolve as a corporate entity within six months. As part of the settlement, JONAH will not appeal the jury verdict.
Why did JONAH not appeal?
JONAH and its attorneys believed that they had excellent grounds for an appeal and a good chance of prevailing. However, there were great risks to the JONAH defendants if they lost on appeal because they would be potentially personally liable for millions of dollars in attorneys' fees to the SPLC.
Well, the New Jersey Supreme Court is widely believed to be the most liberal state supreme court in the nation. Therefore, it could not be counted on to fairly apply the proper legal standards any more than the biased trial judge. Indeed, even the five liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justices ignored the law and common sense in overruling the will of a majority of Americans by forcing same-sex "marriage" on the nation. Furthermore, the rulings of the trial judge in the JONAH case have no precedential legal value and cannot be cited for authority in any other cases. If the case had been appealed and somehow lost, then the result could have been used in other cases and done much more harm to the cause of justice and religious freedom.
As a lawyer with long experience, what do you think about the trial?
As a double board certified trial attorney with 33 years experience, I view the trial in hindsight as nothing short of a charade and a legal travesty. The trial judge was overtly biased in its rulings and attitude to the parties and the witnesses. The court's refusal to allow me to even mention the defendants' constitutional right to religious liberty in closing argument was unconscionable. It only serves to underscore the extent to which the court was willing to bend over backwards to guarantee a victory for the SPLC.
Which effect will this have on religious liberty?
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. 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.
Seeking counseling is a very private and personal decision people make…
Yes, coercive tactics that attempt to shut down choice are antithetical to a country founded in religious tolerance. The SPLC has bullied individuals into silence and counselors are afraid to help those who need it.”
Why do you think the SPLC chose JONAH to sue first?
JONAH was a small mom and pop religious nonprofit organization and the Southern Poverty Law Center probably did not think that they could afford to put up much of a defense. Also, the New Jersey state courts are known to be among the most liberal in the country and New Jersey has the most liberal Consumer Fraud Act in the nation.
What does that mean?
Under the New Jersey statute, you do not need to prove that there was an intentional misrepresentation -- even true but misleading statements can be actionable. Nor do you have to prove that you actually relied on the alleged misrepresentation.
Did you expect to win the trial?
Yes, I did. There are multiple reasons why JONAH should have won. None of the plaintiffs identified as gay when they first sought help from JONAH. They were confused and conflicted and did not want to be gay. None of the plaintiffs actually finished the program. And all four of the male plaintiffs said that they benefited from the program even though they left it early.
So what happened to them?
Their views only changed after they were recruited by gay activists to bring this agenda-driven case. Plus, JONAH had numerous success story witnesses that were willing to come forward to testify that they were able to escape from the homosexual lifestyle with their help. That help was provided by JONAH free of charge to the people that sought their assistance.
Why then did you lose at trial?
Quite simply, the liberal trial judge stacked the deck against JONAH to the point that it made it impossible for us to win.
In a seminal pre-trial ruling on Feb. 5, 2015, Judge Bariso excluded several leading conversion therapy proponents, including Joseph Nicolosi and Christopher Doyle, from testifying as defense experts Ruling that their opinions were based on the false premise that homosexuality is a disorder, Bariso wrote 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.” Judge Bariso excluded none of the plaintiffs' biased experts.
Tell us more about JONAH’s experts?
JONAH's experts have collectively helped thousands of people successfully leave the homosexual lifestyle. They were all highly credentialed and licensed practitioners who used well-accepted psychological techniques. JONAH designated Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a licensed psychologist, Dr. Joseph Berger, a licensed psychiatrist, Chris Doyle, a licensed counselor, Dr. James Phelan, a researcher into successful conversion therapies, and Dr. John Diggs, an internist who has treated the homosexual community, and Rabbi Avrohom Stuhlberger, who has referred young Jewish men to JONAH and knew of their successful outcomes.
And what did Judge Bariso do?
He brazenly excluded their testimony on the basis that they believed that homosexual behavior was disordered, even as to people who were admittedly engaged in destructive behaviors or otherwise unhappy with the homosexual lifestyle. Yet, he let the plaintiffs' lesbian and gay "experts" falsely testify on how harmful it is to help people who choose to live their lives according to their deeply held religious beliefs.
Were there other controversial rulings of Judge Bariso?
O yes, very many. He ruled as a matter of law that it was a violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act to call homosexual behavior "disordered", unless it was from a purely religious perspective. Then, he would not even let there be any mention made of the defendants' constitutional right to religious liberty either in closing argument or in the all-important charge to the jury.
The judge further ruled that it was a violation for JONAH to cite statistics or favorable studies unless it had experts, but it would not let JONAH call its well-credentialed experts for that purpose. This presented a classic "Catch-22" situation -- one which denied JONAH even the semblance of a fair trial. In short, this agenda-driven show trial made a mockery of justice.
What is at stake in the case?
What was at stake was the right of people to self-determination and to obtain help in living their lives according to their sincerely held religious beliefs. The SPLC has made it clear that this case was just the "opening salvo" in its nationwide campaign to shut down what it misleadingly calls "conversion therapy". It has listed approximately 70 such groups and individuals on its website which it has targeted for future lawsuits.
Did good also come out of the trial?
The truth was spoken by our side in court and the record of the proceedings is available for any fair minded person to read and judge for themselves. It has also enabled those that stand for self-determination to obtain a great amount of helpful material to be used in the next such case -- which we hope and expect will be tried before a judge less hostile to religious liberty.
How will one have access to this material?
The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund will make this wealth of useful material available free of charge to the next innocent victim targeted by the SPLC. For more information, and to help the cause of religious liberty, please visit the FCDF website at www.consciencedefense.org.