The judge in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s consumer fraud lawsuit against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing — JONAH, a so-called reparative therapy group based in New Jersey — ruled Thursday, Feb. 5 that several prominent gay-to-straight conversion therapy proponents will not be allowed to testify as defense experts.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. will be presiding over the trial, set to begin in early summer. In New Jersey courts, scientific expert opinions must be based on premises and methodology generally accepted within the relevant professional field. And Judge Bariso said Thursday that the conversion therapy proponents’ opinions are based on the false premise that homosexuality is a disorder.
Bariso wrote: “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is a disorder is not novel but – like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it – instead is outdated and refuted.”
SPLC’s lawsuit — Michael Ferguson, et. al., v. JONAH, et. al., filed in November 2012 — alleges that JONAH counselors used abusive and discredited techniques, with counselors instructing young men to undress and stand naked in a circle with a counselor. The lawsuit alleges that JONAH counselors organized group activities in which clients were directed to re-enact past abuse, and engaged in violet role-play exercuses and “therapeutic techniques” that alienated some clients and taught them to blame their family or themselves for making them gay.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of former JONAH clients and two parents of former clients, charges that JONAH, its founder Arthur Goldberg and counselor Alan Downing violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. It claims JONAH used deceptive practices to lure the plaintiffs into their services, which can cost some clients more than $10,000 per year.
David Dinielli, SPLC’s deputy legal director, said Bariso’s ruling is “a major development in our effort to show that conversion therapy is a complete sham masquerading as science.”
The views of the conversion therapy proponents are “so discredited that the supposed ‘experts’ are not even permitted to testify in a court of law,” Dinielli continued, adding that, “Proponents of this bogus therapy lack any valid basis for their opinions promoting the abusive practice, yet they continue to scam vulnerable gay people and inflict significant, long-term psychological harm.”
Nicolosi is a psychologist and author of A Parent’s Guide To Preventing Homosexuality. He is also a founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a discredited organization which claims homosexuality is caused by psychological trauma or other “aberrations” experienced in childhood.
Doyle is a conversion therapist who leads the International Healing Foundation, founded by Richard Cohen, who was permanently expelled by The American Counseling Association in 2002 for multiple ethical violations. His conversion therapies include violently beating effigies of parents and “father-son holding” between clients and their counselors, several of whom claim to have overcome homosexuality.
Phelan is a previous leader of NARTH’s “Scientific Advisory Committee,” which promotes discredited pseudo-scientific studies. The defendants planned for Phelan to testify that conversion therapy is effective based on a bibliography of studies, including ones where “treatments” included lobotomies and electro-shock. During his deposition, he testified he made no attempt to assess the validity of the studies he compiled but merely accepted their conclusions at face value.
The defendants wanted Diggs to testify that homosexuality is an “unhealthy lifestyle” of misery and disease.