HOLMDEL, N.J. (ChurchMilitant.com) – After a court ruling forced the closure of a Judeo-Christian crowdfunding site, its co-founder is scrambling to raise funds for his appeal.
On Wednesday, attorneys for Arthur Goldberg, co-founder of the Jewish Institute for Global Awareness (JIFGA) and co-director of Funding Morality, filed a notice of appeal against the ruling.
They argue the decision violated Goldberg's rights and hit him with more than $3 million in legal fees payable to radical leftist group the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and other two firms that were party to the suit.
In a legal battle spanning almost a decade, Goldberg and his small team have faced between 10 and 14 opposing attorneys in court daily.
Church Militant spoke with Susan McCourt Friedel, a religious liberty attorney and co-founder of advocacy group the Natural Law Defense Fund (NLDF), which focuses on educating citizens on their religious liberties and raising funds for their defense.
"Unlike California and New York that have these big press conferences when they pass things, a lot of things go down in the courts in New Jersey," Friedel said. "We needed something to mobilize New Jersey."
Goldberg has been a target of the SPLC since 2012, when the group recruited four gay activists to be clients seeking help for unwanted same-sex attractions. At the time, he was co-founder of the non-profit organization, Jews Offering a New Alternative to Healing (JONAH), which provided referrals for religious-based counseling.
With the help of the SPLC and several other law firms, the four former clients sued JONAH for fraud under New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act.
"The underlying issue on this case, JONAH, the application of the Consumer Fraud Act to a non-profit providing therapy was a travesty of justice," Friedel said.
Additionally, JIFGA as an organization was held accountable for the actions of one of its officers.
After that case, a decision was made that it was in the best interest of Goldberg not to appeal. "Should there have been an appeal? Yes." Friedel said. "Would it have been successful? Not sure."
She noted one factor of that decision in Goldberg's case and the decision not to appeal was that it handed down the same day same-sex so-called marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges.
Additionally, New Jersey had already passed a law banning reparative therapy for minors. Therapy bans have been passed in numerous states and cities and are hotly contended. Many argue they are unconstitutional owing to their attempt to regulate speech — private speech between a therapist and the client.
Joseph Nicolosi Jr., son of reparative therapy developer Joseph Nicolosi, pointed out that reparative therapy bans actually outlaw treatment goals.
"These 'therapy ban' laws effectively kick the clients out of the driver's seat of their own therapy and put politicians in the driver's seat, instead," Nicolosi said. "The government shouldn't be deciding what people should do with their sexuality."
"There's a number of civil rights issues here," she said. "Elements of this case will trickle down and impact all of us in some way or another if they aren't challenged."
After the JONAH trial, Goldberg did agree to stop providing referrals for therapy and shut down JONAH. Federal law requires a non-profit to liquidate its assets and after doing so, he started JIFGA and began speaking all over the world on other conservative Judeo-Christian social issues — such as opposing abortion and euthanasia.
The SPLC and the judge interpreted this advocacy as a continuation of JONAH's work, in spite of the lack of therapy referrals by JIFGA.
"The other overreach here was that Arthur not only had to shut down JIFGA and Funding Morality, with legal claims that they were 'alter egos' of JONAH," Friedel explained. "That's just patently absurd."
By law, non-profit organizations must dissolve their assets when they shut down. JONAH's dissolution plan was given to the court and the SPLC, and they did not object to it.
Goldberg's attorneys argue that the ruling violated his freedom of association by precluding him from being associated with any other non-profit in the state. The closure of Funding Morality, they say, was another clear violation of rights.
"What on earth does Funding Morality have to do with any of the issues here?" Friedel asked.
Goldberg's team argues that the case also violates the Establishment Clause — the separation of church and state.
JONAH was a faith-based organization and helped pair clients with faith-based counselors. Friedel said the root cause issue is punishing anyone who supports or advocates for conservative Judeo-Christian morality.
Friedel noted that this case also has implications for people who oppose transgendering children. She said she has seen evidence the gay lobby is pushing this to children and "the reason they will give is that it makes for an easier transition," she said. "God has designed us so that it takes a lot to change your gender. These children will have to be on those hormones for the rest of their lives."
Since Funding Morality was shut down Goldberg has no way to raise funds for his legal defense. When he was forced to cease operations, he gave every dime pledged to the campaigns he ran and never took a paycheck for his work at JIFGA.
Goldberg is likely unable to use other crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe, given that their policies equate traditional morality with hate speech. Because JIFGA's work was to advocate for the Judeo-Christian worldview, there is a false idea that the group is "anti-LGBT" or "homophobic."
Goldberg's case is the NLDF's first fundraising project and Friedel said it was more challenging to set up the site than the team had anticipated.
"The more I get into this, and talk to other people … who else is doing what Funding Morality did?" she said.
Friedel said that the first donations will be used for court records and filing fees, which will easily reach thousands of dollars. She plans on applying for grants from other religious liberty defenders, but given the multi-million dollar resources of the SPLC, the legal battle is going to be long and drawn out.
According to the SPLC's mission statement, the group uses litigation to achieve its goals:
Our lawsuits have toppled institutional racism and stamped out remnants of Jim Crow segregation; destroyed some of the nation's most violent white supremacist groups; and protected the civil rights of children, women, the disabled, immigrants and migrant workers, the LGBT community, prisoners, and many others who faced discrimination, abuse or exploitation.
Court briefings are typically held within 30 days of the notice of appeal, but Friedel said with the upcoming holidays, it is likely that the briefings won't be held until February.
Those who wish to contribute to the NLDF's defense of Goldberg can do so here.