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Jewish counselors forced out of business for helping people avoid homosexual behavior

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SOMERSET COUNTY, New Jersey, January 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – A Jewish group that provides counseling to teens and others with same-sex attractions will be no more on February 1, thanks to a court agreement reached last month.

In an email to supporters, New Jersey-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) co-directors Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Silodor Berk said that on December 18, a New Jersey judge ordered their group to "permanently cease operations, including providing referrals and operating its website and listserv," as well as "dissolve as a corporate entity and liquidate its assets by the middle of May."

It also must pay part of the $3.5 million in legal fees accrued by the plaintiffs at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

JONAH lost its defense against the SPLC last summer, when a jury ruled that its reparative therapy program for people with unwanted same-sex attractions was fraudulent. JONAH was found guilty of 17 of 20 claims leveled by SPLC on behalf of former JONAH clients, who claim they were emotionally abused by JONAH and had to seek therapy after leaving its services.

The well-funded SPLC, which often declares pro-marriage organizations to be "hate groups," filed the suit in 2012. On its website, an SPLC spokesperson said, "[T]his case is about exposing the lie that LGBT people are mentally ill and that they need to be cured. Groups like JONAH should not be allowed to use bogus therapy, based on junk science, to scam LGBT people and their families out of thousands of dollars."

Shortly after the jury's June 20 decision, however, JONAH attorney Charles LiMandri told LifeSiteNews, "We feel there's excellent grounds for appeal. Two leap to mind – one, the judge struck all of our experts and let the other side keep their experts. Also, the judge would not let us reference that JONAH has First Amendment religious liberties defenses in either the instructions that went to the jury or my closing argument."

Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso struck JONAH's witnesses because they did not view homosexual attractions and relationships as normal. In February 2015, he 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is a disorder is not novel but – like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it – instead is outdated and refuted."

JONAH spent three million dollars in its defense. Unlike SPLC, which has dozens of paid staffers, Goldberg was unpaid for his counseling and other work with JONAH.

In a recent media statement, LiMandri said, "Despite the many grounds for appeal, the financial risks to my client, who has never made any personal profit out of volunteering to help men troubled with unwanted same-sex attraction, made this deal necessary."

According to LiMandri, "[t]he Southern Poverty  Law Center should be embarrassed at the millions its donors spent to shut down one small voluntary nonprofit in New Jersey."

Maggie Gallagher, a spokesperson for LiMandri's Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, told LifeSiteNews shortly before the jury's decision, "Before the SPLC offered to make them heroes to the organized gay community by becoming plaintiffs, the plaintiffs all said they enjoyed and benefited from the program."

"Right now, on the stand in New Jersey, you can hear from 9 program participants who testify JONAH helped them immensely lead their lives according to their primary identity, as religious people. One of the SPLC's own expert witnesses, Dr. Lee Beckstead, acknowledges there is no systematic scientific evidence any of these forms of therapy cause concrete harm."

"[Former American Psychological Association president] Dr. Nicholas Cummings, one of the people who helped overturn the listing of homosexuality as a mental disorder, acknowledges that he personally has helped hundreds of patients change their sexual orientation and that sexual orientation change efforts are not, per se, unethical," said Gallagher.

Gallagher also said that LiMandri got the SPLC's experts "to concede gay people who want to live according to their religious values have the right to seek help and that identity and behavior can change, even if they believe orientation per se may not change."

The case was the first of its kind. According to the SPLC's deputy legal director, "[t]he end of JONAH signals that conversion therapy, however packaged, is fraudulent – plain and simple. Other conversion therapy providers would be well-advised to examine what happened to JONAH, and to abandon their foolish efforts to make gay people straight."

"JONAH's conversion therapy program harmed countless LGBT people and their families," continued David Dinielli. "JONAH peddled discredited, pseudo-scientific treatments to people who weren't sick, who weren't broken, and who needed nothing but love and support."

Goldberg and Berk say the jury's decision was a "tragic miscarriage of justice which occurred in the JONAH case reflects the near triumph of political correctness and the gay activist agenda in the USA. We long for the day when the outcome in the JONAH case will be recognized as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in modern history."

"So many of the court's outrageous pre-trial rulings, such as not allowing our six defense experts to testify, the equally outrageous rulings that calling homosexuality 'disordered' violates the Consumer Fraud Act, and the ruling during the trial which prohibited our attorney from arguing our freedom of religion 1st Amendment rights ended any real chance for a fair trial and verdict."

"Seeking counseling is a very private and personal decision people make and should not be interfered with by government or anyone," said an email to supporters.

Berk and Goldberg say they are looking to the future and are "working on our vision to form a new institute that will be rooted in biblical values and express a biblical worldview."

"On December 29, 2015, we filed the articles of incorporation for our new organization, the Jewish Institute for Global Awareness (JIFGA)," say Berk and Goldberg, who described the new institute as an effort "to put together a coalition of those who follow the Abrahamic religions (Jews, Christians, and Muslims, which constitute more than 50% of the world's population). This coalition will advocate Divinely ordained moral imperatives and universal ethics known as the Seven Noahide Laws. We will continue to fight for core American values, including the freedom of traditional believers to live as free and equal citizens in this great country."

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