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N.J. Supreme Court Affirms That Conversion Therapy Is Fraud

Therapist and client

The N.J. high court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court's ruling against conversion therapy provider JONAH. 

The New Jersey Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of a ruling that barred a religious organization from offering so-called conversion therapy and held it liable for attorneys' fees incurred by former clients who sued.

In 2012, several young men and two mothers, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and private law firms, sued Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, a.k.a. JONAH, which claimed to be able to turn gay people straight, a practice deemed ineffective and harmful by major medical and mental health organizations. It alleged the practice was fraudulent, and the suit was the first of its kind, according to SPLC.

In 2015, a New Jersey trial court ruled that JONAH had engaged in "unconscionable business practices" and violated the state's consumer fraud law. The court imposed a permanent injunction under which JONAH was to cease operation and a settlement agreement under which it was to pay the plaintiffs $3.5 million to cover attorneys' fees.

However, JONAH did not abide by the ruling; it reconstituted under a different name and continued to offer conversion therapy. In 2019, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. ordered the enforcement of the permanent injunction and settlement agreement. The Appellate Division of the Superior Court upheld Judge Bariso's order in 2021. But JONAH and its founders continued to appeal, going to the state's Supreme Court, which has now turned the appeal down.

"We applaud the New Jersey Supreme Court for reaffirming Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr.'s order enforcing the permanent injunction and settlement agreement," Scott McCoy, SPLC's interim deputy legal director for LGBTQ rights and special litigation, said in a Tuesday press release. "We are pleased that this decision will continue to help protect vulnerable people and families against those who look to push the harmful and ineffective so-called gay-to-straight conversion therapy sham."

"The brave plaintiffs who brought the original lawsuit against JONAH have been vindicated at every step," added Lina Bensman, partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton, one of the law firms that served as co-counsel. "We hope that other vulnerable gay people will feel affirmed by the outcomes we have achieved in this case. Gay and bisexual people are not mentally ill and do not need a 'cure.' Anyone hoping to defraud them by charging them money for dangerous and unscientific conversion therapy services should think twice."

Twenty states and numerous cities and counties have now barred licensed professionals from subjecting minors to conversion therapy.

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