Gay Conversion Therapy Begins Legal Fight in Jersey City

Source: Washington
Lawyers for four gay men and two of their mothers will tell a jury that their clients were tricked into believing counselors with Jews Offering Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) could relieve the men of their same-sex attraction. Instead, the men and their mothers suffered emotional distress as a result of the therapy — which also failed to alter their gay orientation.
New Jersey and three other states have banned reparative or conversion therapy for teens and children, due to concerns that it is harmful and ineffective…More than a dozen states are considering similar bills. Federal legislation to ban all conversion therapy has been introduced in Congress.
Opponents of the bans say the therapy has been misrepresented for political purposes and the New Jersey case was launched to shut down debate on the issue. They also argue the bans represent an unwarranted intrusion into the relationship between a patient and his therapist. Maggie Gallagher, chairman of the board of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF), says:

“There are lots and lots of people who have found this counseling helpful, and so the claim that it’s fraudulent is going to be fairly easy to overturn.”

JONAH, named for the biblical prophet who fled God but repented and returned to fulfill his mission in Nineveh, was founded in 1998 to help Jews and others to address sexual issues, including “the false identity of homosexuality,” JONAH co-founder Elaine Silodor Berk said in an open letter issued a few years ago. “Anything that the Torah forbids, the human being is able to control,” she wrote, citing the words of Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky.
Mr. Dinielli, who spoke at Mr. Lieu’s May 19 press conference on his bill, said the four plaintiffs — Michael Ferguson, Benjamin Unger, Sheldon Bruck and Chaim Levin — were raised in religious families “and were desperate to change from gay to straight.” But they were misled by JONAH and its affiliated therapists, who said “conversion therapy could heal them.”
Nothing in the therapy worked, including group sessions in which one client was told to hit an effigy of his mother with a tennis racket and a “sleep-away camp” where clients were encouraged to reenact traumatic events from their past “to reclaim their supposedly lost masculinity,” Mr. Dinielli said.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. already has ruled that homosexuality cannot be described as a mental illness, disease or disorder, and lawyers for JONAH may not present certain people as experts or cite “success” statistics because JONAH has not tracked or maintained records on outcomes.
The jury will hear testimony on whether the defendants acted unlawfully, whether plaintiffs had ascertainable losses, and whether there was a causal relationship between the unlawful conduct and ascertainable loss. The case could involve constitutionally protected religious liberties if the jury decides that JONAH viewed homosexuality as “disordered” due to its religious views, Judge Bariso wrote.
JONAH clients sign consent forms with a no-guarantee clause…The trial is expected to last for several weeks.

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