People of Praise: Amy Coney Barrett's Far-Right Religious Group

On Monday, hearings began for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Since President Trump nominated Barrett for the seat vacated by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, there has been immense controversy over what her vote may bring to the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals jurist holds conservative beliefs on abortion, gun rights, discrimination, and immigration. If confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice, she will be one of six Catholic judges. Recently, there has been a concern about her religious beliefs, since it has been reported that Barrett and her family are associated with the far-right Catholic group People of Praise. 


What is People of Praise?

People of Praise is a religious community based on Catholic values that focus on having a personal relationship with Jesus through practices like speaking in tongues and faith healing. Members are expected to give five percent of their income to the group and many “choose to make a lifelong commitment to the community," called a covenant. Sean Connolly, a spokesman for People of Praise, explained the covenant to Politico, 

“After a multi-year period of prayer and discernment, many People of Praise members choose to make a permanent commitment called a covenant. The covenant of the People of Praise is a promise of love and service we choose to make to one another. The covenant is not an oath or a vow. Our covenant is a commitment to be there for one another for the long run, to support one another through thick and thin, through all of life's seasons."

  Photo by Jackie Boylhart on Unsplash

Why is it Controversial?


In the past, People of Praise referred to the women in leadership as “handmaids”. In the 2010 People of Praise directory, Amy Coney Barett was listed as one of these “handmaids”, meaning she had a leadership role in the group. The title was dropped after the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale gained popularity, adapted from the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name from 1985. Ex-members of the group have spoken out saying that People of Praise is a cult-like organization and believes that women must submit to their husbands at all times.

Former member Coral Anika Theill has chronicled her experiences with People of Praise in her book,  "Bonsheá: Making Light of the Dark." When she was a member in the 80s, she claims the group controlled all aspects of the members' lives including their jobs, purchases, and where the members lived. The group has “heads” who act as spiritual mentors and advise life decisions; husbands serve as “heads” to their wives and families.


What Does it Mean for Barrett’s Vote?


While Barrett’s involvement with People of Praise does not pose an immediate threat to impacting Supreme Court voting right now, it does raise questions of her views of women and the protection of women’s rights. During her confirmation hearings on Tuesday, Barrett was asked by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California “Do you agree that Roe was wrongly decided?” Stone-faced, Barrett responded with: 

“I completely understand why you are asking the question,” Barrett responded, looking grave. But “I can’t pre-commit or say, ‘Yes, I’m going in with some agenda,’ because I’m not. I don’t have any agenda.”

Many conservative Supreme Court judges in past years have wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade. As of now, we do not know Barrett’s view of legal abortion, but we can only assume from her religious affiliations that she would not protect a woman’s right to choose.