Lawsuit claims group's sexual orientation therapy is fraudulent

SAN DIEGO - A lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center claims New Jersey-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) is perpetuating fraud.

JONAH's website touts "the power to change," suggesting that those unsure about their sexual cravings take a "journey from unwanted same-sex attraction."

Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund lead attorney Charles LiMandri of Rancho Santa Fe argues free speech and freedom of religion are at issue.

"This lawsuit seeks to stop any type of assistance to people who have homosexual inclinations, whether they're minors or adults, from getting that assistance from anyone," said LiMandri.

San Diegan Sean Sala went through sexual orientation therapy when he was 15, and he said, "Well, it didn't work, obviously. It's just nothing but a sham."

Sala attended classes through his church in Texas and was terribly offended.

"The tactics were very overbearing, weird, more like sexual harassment instead of actually trying to fix an issue and it's surrounded by ignorance when it comes to science and sexual orientation. If it's not scientifically consistent, it can be detrimental or incredibly harmful like it was for me. I almost took my own life because of the lies the church told me over and over again," Sala said.

Many in the gay and lesbian community consider the treatment fraudulent.

Paul McGuire, a family law attorney who handles gay rights cases, said, "There's really no evidence that it works, and so it's maddening to most people, especially gay and lesbian individuals who … it says, well, there's people that can change but that's really not the case."

LiMandri argues otherwise.

"We have unrefuted evidence that thousands of people have benefited from these types of program, many of whom feel their lives are happier and more fulfilled now. JONAH's not condemning people, telling them they have to change, telling people that their lives won't be fulfilled if they don't change. They're just saying if you want that kind of help, we've got proven methods that have helped a large number of people," he said.

McGuire added, "I think the lawsuit will be a good wake-up call to people that are thinking about this type of therapy, whether or not it's something we need to ban."

A defense response is due in February.

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