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Judge orders ‘conversion therapy’ provider to permanently cease operations once again

A New Jersey state judge this week ordered the dissolution of an organization known as the Jewish Institute for Global Awareness (JIFGA) – which facilitated fraudulent gay-to-straight “conversion therapy” – after its directors violated an injunction entered four years ago requiring its predecessor to permanently cease all operations.

Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. issued a 47-page decision finding that the defendants have violated a 2015 injunction and settlement agreement involving the group formerly known as Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH).

The court decision follows a motion the SPLC filed in March, asking a judge to find that JIFGA had violated the injunction to cease operations and should be sanctioned. That motion also asked the judge to find that the defendants have violated the settlement agreement that led to the injunction, and now owe additional attorney fees.

In order to “deter and punish” the defendants, the court also barred them from serving as directors of any New Jersey nonprofit corporation, ordered that they pay attorney fees incurred in connection with the plaintiffs’ efforts to enforce the injunction, and pay the full amount owed under the settlement agreement. 

“The court previously had ordered JONAH to shut its doors and stop promoting conversion therapy because a jury found that its program was fraudulent and unconscionable – in violation of New Jersey’s consumer fraud law,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the SPLC.

“The ruling this week – concluding that defendants have violated that court order – confirms that the court meant what it said,” Dinielli said. “Conversion therapy necessarily is fraudulent because it is based on the lie that LGBTQ people can and should be fixed. Along with our clients and other allies, we will not stop until we eradicate these dangerous practices in New Jersey and around the country.”

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

In a landmark June 2015 victory, a jury found that JONAH falsely claimed that it could change its clients from gay to straight and was in violation of 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.

But just 11 days after the permanent injunction was issued, JONAH filed articles of incorporation for “Jewish Institute for Global Awareness (JIFGA),” which is essentially a continuation of JONAH. Not only does it have JONAH’s assets, leadership and core operations, but it has also maintained the same physical place of business and telephone number.

And within weeks after the entry of the injunction, JONAH, under its new name, 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.

This past Friday, lawyers from the SPLC, Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton LLP, and Lite DePalma Greenberg LLC presented oral arguments on motions urging the judge to enforce the permanent injunction and settlement agreement between JONAH (now known as JIFGA) and the plaintiffs.  

“When we learned that JONAH continued to operate under a new name and, in defiance of the jury’s verdict, carry on the same unconscionable practices that harmed so many vulnerable young people, we knew our job was not over,” said Luke Barefoot, partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton LLP.

Photo by Karsten Moran​