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SPLC: Conversion therapy provider continues to secretly operate nearly four years after jury finds practices unconscionable

The SPLC this week filed a motion asking a judge to institute contempt proceedings against JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing), now known as JIFGA (Jewish Institute for Global Awareness), for violating an injunction entered over three years ago requiring that it permanently cease all operations and completely halt all elements of its fraudulent gay-to-straight “conversion therapy” program.

Yesterday’s motion also asks the judge to find that the defendants have violated the settlement agreement that led to the injunction, and now owe additional attorney fees.

In a landmark June 2015 victory, a jury found that JONAH falsely claimed that it could change its clients from gay to straight and that JONAH’s conversion therapy program was unconscionable, and therefore violated New Jersey’s consumer fraud law. 

The following December, the New Jersey Superior Court issued a decision entering a permanent injunction, which forced JONAH permanently to cease any and all operations and to dissolve, as part of an agreement between JONAH, its founders and plaintiffs represented by the SPLC and its co-counsel.

The motion sets forth that, within weeks of the entry of the injunction, JONAH began violating the court order by promoting and facilitating conversion therapy by making referrals to individual counselors and to “experiential weekends” that purported to help people go from gay to straight, by collecting referral fees, by acting as a middleman between clients and counselors, and by participating in the organization and facilitation of conversion therapy programs.

These violations continued for years.

The SPLC’s motion, filed yesterday in conjunction with the law firms Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and Lite DePalma Greenberg, LLC, asks the court to institute criminal contempt proceedings against some of the original defendants, to find that they have violated the settlement agreement between the parties as well as the court’s injunction, and to award additional attorney fees.

Conversion therapy is junk science marketed as a way to “cure” LGBT individuals, and has been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations.

“Across the country, we have seen a push to ban the harmful practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ on minors,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “Despite the bans, however, the practices continue, sometimes in the shadows, sometimes in violation of law, and sometimes outside the reach of the law. Defendants in this case continued to promote conversion therapy even after a court ordered them to stop, which simply underscores the critical need to redouble our efforts to shut down all of these dangerous quacks once and for all.”

The SPLC filed the first-of-its-kind lawsuit against JONAH in November 2012, accusing the organization of fraudulently claiming to provide services that “convert” people from gay to straight. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several young gay men who were harmed by the dangerous practice, and two of their parents who paid JONAH for their sons’ “therapy.”

Conversion therapy bans, which bar licensed mental health providers from performing conversion therapy on minors, have been moving forward across the country. Currently, 15 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico – and dozens of local governments – ban the practice.

Photo by Karsten Moran