The founders of a New Jersey-based conversion therapy clinic will have to pony up a $3.5 million fine for violating the terms of a settlement that barred the group from practicing its dangerous techniques.
Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) first landed in the headlines back in 2012. Four former clients of the group sued alleging psychological torture and abuse aimed at “correcting” sexual orientation. Court documents revealed that abuse included clients undressing in front of each other and physically attacking effigies of their mothers. That suit settled in 2015 with JONAH founders Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Berk eluding payment of $3.5 million in damages; the pair negotiated the fine down to $400,000 in exchange for promising they would never again engage in conversion therapy practices.
By 2018, however, several clients again sued Berk and Goldberg alleging that they violated the terms of the 2015 settlement by again practicing conversion therapy. A judge ruled in the case just two weeks later, finding that the pair had reneged on the terms of the 2015 settlement, ordering them to pay the full $3.5 fee.
Now NJ.com reports that an appellate court in New Jersey has upheld the earlier judge’s ruling, again ordering Berk and Goldberg to pay the $3.5 million fine.
“From late December 2015 to late May 2018, there were numerous email exchanges in which Goldberg, and to a lesser extent Berk, communicated with people seeking conversion therapy and therapists providing conversion therapy. They also followed up to ensure that they received referral fees,” the July 7 appellate ruling read.
If Berk and Goldberg cannot pay the fine, they face prison time.
Conversion therapy is a widely discredited practice aimed at changing sexual orientation or gender identity through therapeutic means. Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have denounced the practice as harmful, and a number of states–including New Jersey–have begun to ban it altogether. A number of recent films including Pray Away, Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post have also portrayed conversion therapy as harmful, even irreparably damaging.