As President Donald Trump responded to Twitter’s attacks against him by signing an executive order changing the way the federal government applies Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a Jewish conservative whose crowdfunding platform got shut down by the State of New Jersey brought his case to the Appellate Division of the State of New Jersey, using Section 230 as a shield to fight back against a legal attack from the far-left smear factory the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
“The case law says clearly and unequivocally that content put on by a provider but not a publisher has immunity,” Arthur Goldberg, the founder of the Jewish Institute for Global Awareness (JIFGA) and the crowdfunding site Funding Morality, told PJ Media. “They said you’re promoting [sexual orientation change efforts], you’re against the injunction. Section 230 applies here and you can’t use that against me.”
Section 230 grants internet platforms legal immunity for the content of others who post that content on the platforms. This has allowed the internet to become a hub of free discourse, although some have claimed that Big Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter have violated Section 230 by censoring content.
Last year, a New Jersey judge ordered Goldberg to shut down JIFGA and Funding Morality and imposed a $3.2 million fine on Goldberg for allegedly violating a 2015 court order against advocating for sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), which have been demonized under the term “conversion therapy.” Goldberg appealed last year’s order, claiming that JIFGA and Funding Morality did not violate the 2015 order.
In 2015, the court ordered that Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) must shut down because it allegedly violated consumer fraud laws by promising that men and women who suffer from unwanted same-sex attraction may overcome their orientation through therapy. Goldberg, JONAH’s co-founder with Elaine Berk, told PJ Media that JONAH never promised clients it could change their sexual orientation. In fact, before JONAH referred clients to therapists, the clients signed affidavits noting that no guarantee to success was provided.
Even so, the SPLC filed the first-of-its-kind lawsuit to get JONAH shut down, and a court order shut down the organization in 2015. The SPLC later claimed that Goldberg continued JONAH’s activities through his new organization, JIFGA.
Yet JIFGA and JONAH had fundamentally different goals, Goldberg told PJ Media last year.
“JIFGA’s purpose was to be a religious and educational arm to explain the seven Noahide laws,” he told PJ Media. The seven laws, delivered from God to Noah, are considered the backbone of universal morality, supported by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They involve prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, sexual immorality, and removing meat from a live animal. The final law is a requirement to establish a system of justice.
“Funding Morality was a project of JIFGA, a crowdfunding site for people who follow biblical values. Given the problems today with the internet, where religious items or things that may not be considered politically correct are knocked off so many different websites, we started this so there would be an outlet for people who are faith-based,” the co-founder told PJ Media.
Funding Morality hosted a great many different causes, including: a fundraiser for Brett Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge; a crowdfunding effort for Father Paul John Kalchik, a priest forced into hiding after burning an LGBT cross flag; a fundraiser to defend a South Bend, Ind., police officer whose previous crowdfunding effort had been booted by GoFundMe, which accused the cop of a “hate crime”; an Ohio church fundraising to replace its Boy Scouts chapter with Trail Life USA; a crowdfunding effort to fight the prejudices of the caste system for sewage sweepers in Pakistan; and more.
Yet the judge condemned Funding Morality for one specific campaign, an effort to crowdfund for a video tribute to Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Sr., a pioneering therapist in the field of reintegrative therapy. “His friends and family wanted to raise money,” and Funding Morality hosted them, Goldberg told PJ Media.
The reintegrative therapy Nicolosi championed was patient-directed and followed modern therapeutic standards. It aims to help patients who do not want to experience same-sex attraction to manage and perhaps overcome those feelings. While leftist groups like the SPLC demonize such efforts as “conversion therapy,” referencing horrific and outdated practices like shock therapy, these therapies follow mainstream standards and are patient-directed. The term “conversion therapy” is misleading at best and libel at worst.
“The judge said, “Clearly, you were participating in conversion-therapy related commerce,'” Goldberg explained. His latest court filing disputed that claim for three reasons. First, Funding Morality enjoys immunity under Section 230. The crowdfunding platform merely hosted the fundraiser — it did not have editorial control over it. Second, the court’s decision ignored the fact that Funding Morality was a platform that third parties could use for fundraising, as in this case. Third, the fundraising for the Nicolosi video involved constitutionally-protected speech.
Goldberg’s case is about more than just JIFGA and Funding Morality — it carries implications for the freedom to dissent from the LGBT narrative across America. “When the SPLC targeted us, they thought this was going to be their door to open up all fifty states. New Jersey has the most liberal consumer fraud law in the country,” Goldberg explained.
The Supreme Court is currently weighing a religious discrimination case in which Philadelphia shut down a Catholic adoption agency for the sin of placing children only with a mother and a father, rather than with same-sex couples.
“Freedom loses when the government decides which religious beliefs are acceptable,” Keisha Russell, counsel at the religious freedom firm First Liberty Institute, said in a statement.
In a friend-of-the-court brief in that case, First Liberty explained that Philadelphia’s “City Council passed a resolution directing DHS to change its contracting practices and condemning ‘discrimination that occurs under the guise of religious freedom.’ The Mayor publicly disparaged the Archdiocese, calling Archbishop [Charles] Chaput’s actions ‘not Christian,’ and asking Pope Francis ‘to kick some ass here!’ The DHS Commissioner urged CSS to follow ‘the teachings of Pope Francis,’ and told it that ”times have changed,’ ‘attitudes have changed,’ and CSS should change its policy because it is ‘not 100 years ago.'”
“Philadelphia decided only recently to prefer religious denominations that hold nontraditional beliefs on marriage over those that have traditional practices,” First Liberty explained. In this case, Philadelphia endorsed one religious view of marriage over another, and it excluded a Catholic adoption agency that followed the historic Christian view of marriage and childrearing.
The case against JIFGA is similar, except the animus against SOCE is more misplaced. At the behest of the SPLC, the New Jersey judge ruled that JONAH’s decision to refer patients for reparative therapy violated the state’s consumer protection laws because under it is ostensibly impossible for those with unwanted same-sex attraction to ever overcome it. Nevermind that JONAH told its clients there was no guarantee of success. Nevermind that therapists who offered SOCE also offered therapy to LGBT people who wished to reaffirm their same-sex attraction. Nevermind that the whole point is to allow patients to direct the therapy.
Yet the case against JIFGA is more outrageous because JIFGA did not refer SOCE patients. Funding Morality also merely hosted fundraisers, one of which happened to involve celebrating Nicolosi. The idea that JIFGA and Funding Morality should be shut down because they supposedly violated the 2015 order is absurd.
Yet the SPLC traffics in the absurd. Having gained notoriety for monitoring and suing into bankruptcy the Ku Klux Klan and similar true hate groups, the SPLC accuses mainstream conservative and Christian organizations of being “hate groups,” listing them along with chapters of the KKK and citing its “hate group” tallies as statistically-significant evidence of the threat of white supremacist terrorism.
The “hate group” accusation led a would-be terrorist to target the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C., planning to kill everyone in the building and place a Chick-fil-A sandwich by their heads. The “hate group” accusation led Mar-a-Lago to cancel a gala with the national security nonprofit ACT for America last year. Attorney General Dana Nessl (D-Mich.) launched a “hate crimes unit” targeting SPLC-accused “hate groups” last year, weaponizing law enforcement to silence the SPLC’s ideological opponents.
This month, the SPLC launched the “Y’All Means All” campaign to celebrate LGBT pride month and warning against the “sharp spike — nearly 43% — in anti-LGBTQ hate groups in 2019 and an administration that has embraced the agenda of anti-LGBTQ leaders.” In its call to action, the SPLC urged viewers to “Take the Y’all Means All Pledge to reject white supremacy and show your support for our shared vision of uplifting LGBTQ people in the Deep South and across the country.”
In other words, the SPLC suggested that “anti-LGBTQ hate groups” are affiliated with white supremacy, even though the SPLC knows that conservative Christian organizations like FRC and Alliance Defending Freedom have nothing to do with racism or white supremacy.
In the case of JIFGA as in the case of its “hate group” accusation, the SPLC is weaponizing its position to demonize and silence dissent from its radical agenda.
Goldberg has suffered tremendous damage in the case.
The Jewish leader fought for civil rights in the 1960s, participating in the Freedom Rides even as SPLC Co-Founder Morris Dees was representing a Ku Klux Klan member who beat up Freedom Riders.
Yet Goldberg has fought for his right to run a nonprofit for eight years. “This litigation started in 2012, it’s now 2020. I just mortgaged my home to raise cash for the legal fees I never took a salary either at JONAH or JIFGA. It was a labor of love, not my source of livelihood,” he told PJ Media.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.