Metro Weekly

Southern Poverty Law Center asks court to enforce order closing down conversion therapy group

After being ordered to close, JONAH reconstituted itself as JIFGA and continued to advocate for conversion therapy

The official state seal of New Jersey on brick wall background. Photo credit: Micha, via MyImages.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has asked a court to enforce an order requiring the shuttering of a conversion therapy group found guilty of violating New Jersey’s consumer fraud laws three years ago.

The group, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, was ordered to close by the New Jersey Superior Court, but proceeded to reconstitute itself under a new name and continued offering services aimed at changing LGBTQ people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Under the Superior Court order — which came just months after a jury found JONAH guilty in June 2015 — JONAH was to enter into an agreement with the SPLC and its co-counsel requiring the conversion therapy group to permanently cease all operations and dissolve its corporate entity.

But just 11 days after the court order, JONAH filed articles of incorporation for the “Jewish Institute for Global Awareness,” which is essentially a continuation of JONAH. In fact, JIFGA has the same assets, leadership and core operations as JONAH, and even maintained the same physical address and telephone number as its predecessor.

In its motion, the SPLC asked the court to enforce the previously issued permanent injunction against the organization — and any future identities it may take on.

“The court in 2015 ordered JONAH to close up shop forever, but its founders — Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Berk — have flouted the court order by changing JONAH’s name but not its function,” David Dinielli, the deputy legal director for the SPLC, said in a statement. “JONAH’s founders continue to promote the fraudulent, harmful and dangerous practice of conversion therapy. We are asking the court, once again, to order them to cease any and all activity intended to ‘fix’ those who aren’t broken.”

In the complaint, the SPLC, and its co-counsel, the law firm of Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton, allege that JIFGA continued to engage in conversion therapy, using the same providers as JONAH. When the SPLC inquired about the listed expenses, JIFGA admitted that JONAH had actually transferred all of its assets directly to JIFGA, including the balance of its bank accounts and referral agreements with various providers.

The complaint alleges that Goldberg continued to offer himself as a reference to Orthodox Jewish mental health professionals interested in conversion therapy. JIFGA started a crowd-funding platform, “Funding Morality,” to provide support to those who believe homosexuality is sinful and that sexual orientation can be changed.

The permanent injunction against JONAH in 2015 awarded $3.5 million in attorneys’ fees and costs to the SPLC and its co-counsel. That amount was subsequently reduced through negotiations with JONAH, and the smaller amount was never made public. But now that JONAH/JIFGA has violated the injunction, the SPLC is asking for the remaining balance of that original $3.5 million award.

“The jury’s verdict and the court’s injunction meant what they said: JONAH and its founders perpetrated a fraud on our clients and too many others, and must be shut down,” Jim Bromley, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton, said in a statement. “We will not allow JONAH to simply change its name and continue its harmful, unlawful practices.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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