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N.J. judge excludes key ‘conversion therapy’ experts in consumer fraud case

N.J. judge excludes key ‘conversion therapy’ experts in consumer fraud case
Southern Poverty Law Center Plaintiffs Benjamin Unger and Chaim Levin
Southern Poverty Law Center Plaintiffs Benjamin Unger and Chaim Levin SPLC

A New Jersey judge has ruled that several prominent proponents of gay-to-straight conversion therapy will not be allowed to testify in a consumer-fraud case brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center against a conversion therapy organization.

Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. on Thursday excluded Joseph Nicolosi, Christopher Doyle, Dr. James Phelan and Dr. John Diggs as witnesses for the defense, holding that their opinions are based on the false premise that homosexuality is a disorder.

Bariso 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is a disorder is not novel but – like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it – instead is outdated and refuted.”

In New Jersey, scientific expert opinions must be based on premises and methodology generally accepted within the relevant professional field.

Trial in the lawsuit against the New Jersey-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) is scheduled to begin in the early summer of 2015.

The judge’s ruling indicates that he sees much of the JONAH experts’ planned testimony as irrelevant.

“Today’s decision is a major development in our effort to show that conversion therapy is a complete sham masquerading as science,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the SPLC.

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“Conversion therapy lacks any such basis and its most prominent proponents – including Joseph Nicolosi – hold views that are so discredited that the supposed ‘experts’ are not even permitted to testify in a court of law. 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,” said Dinielli.

The 2012 SPLC 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.

The complaint alleges that JONAH used deceptive practices to lure the plaintiffs into their services, which can cost some clients more than $10,000 per year.

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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), which claims homosexuality is caused by psychological trauma or other “aberrations” experienced in childhood.

He has been one of the most ardent champions of conversion therapy, also known as “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapy.

Doyle is a conversion therapist who leads the International Healing Foundation, founded by self-described “king of touch” Richard Cohen. The American Counseling Association permanently expelled Cohen 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 produces no scientific research but 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.

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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 also wanted Diggs to testify that homosexuality is an “unhealthy lifestyle” of misery and disease.

According to the lawsuit, JONAH counselors used abusive and discredited techniques. Counselors instructed young men to undress and stand naked in a circle with a counselor. They organized group activities in which clients were directed to reenact past abuse. The group’s violent role-play exercises and therapeutic techniques alienated some clients from their families and taught them to blame family members (or themselves) for being gay.

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