Supreme Court controversy unpacked: Amy Coney Barrett and The People of Praise


Anton Johnson

The religious views of Trump’s divisive Supreme Court pick aren’t off the table for some opponents. Photo courtesy of AP News.

On Day 4 of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings, the Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a motion to schedule a committee vote on her nomination on Oct. 22.

That means the committee will likely approve the nomination that day. From there, the Senate will gather to vote on whether or not to confirm her. The confirmation could happen as early as Oct. 26, with the presidential election taking place on Nov. 3.

Barrett’s nomination has been a source of controversy from the start, largely thanks to its proximity to the election. With the potential for a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, both major parties are desperate to win this battle.

Apart from questioning the legitimacy of the process, Democrats have not only questioned Amy Coney Barrett’s qualifications and character, but also how her Catholic faith will affect her job.

Opponents have argued that Barrett’s association with the religious group People of Praise is worth investigating. People of Praise is a charismatic Christian group, and although it’s not explicitly Catholic, many of its members are.

Charismatic Christianity is a movement that encompasses many different groups that believe that miracles like those in the Bible can be performed today. The modern movement was inspired by Pentecostals, who emphasize “speaking in tongues.”

People of Praise was falsely accused of being the inspiration for Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The misconception arose because members are assigned a personal adviser, who would be called a “head” if male and a “handmaid” if female. Barrett herself was listed as a “handmaid,” although now advisers are called “leader” regardless of gender.

The comparison to the dystopian novel also sticks because of the role of women in the group. “Leaders” advise people on decisions such as marriage and how to raise their children. Women are encouraged to take on a strictly traditional role within the family as a wife and mother, an ideology common among conservative religious groups.

Despite their – by some accounts – extreme views on gender, The People of Praise fall short of the sexual slavery described in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” However, the overtly conservative nature of the group makes it a natural target for liberal opponents.

When Barrett was appointed to her current position in 2017, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein questioned whether or not she could keep her religious views separate from her judicial decisions.

“I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the Dogma lives loudly within you,” Sen. Feinstein said to Barrett during a confirmation hearing.

Many conservatives have spoken out against this quote from Sen. Feinstein and other attacks on the judge’s religious beliefs. President Trump painted the issue as partisan at a fundraiser for Catholic charities in New York City on Oct. 1.

“Anti-Catholic bigotry has absolutely no place in the United States of America,” the President said. “It predominates in the Democrat party, and we must do something immediately about it, like a Republican win – and let’s make it a really big one.”

Bigotry is defined by Merriam-Webster as “obstinate or intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices.” Anti-Catholic bigotry has a long history in the United States. Much of it has been associated with xenophobia against immigrants from majority Catholic countries like Italy and Ireland.

The bigotry toward Catholics in the past mirrors contemporary bigotry toward Muslim immigrants from the Middle East. Just as modern bigots fear “Sharia law,” the bigots of the past feared “papists.”

Left-wing Catholic writer Elizabeth Bruenig wrote about how American Catholic identity has changed since John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic elected president.

“The discrimination was neither as severe nor as formal as bigotry against Black Americans, but it was enough to divide Protestant and Catholic America into nearly separate societies,” Bruenig wrote.

But after Kennedy’s election, Bruenig said “Catholics could present themselves for election to public office without suspicion, and they could confidently call themselves members of the white middle class.”

Catholic Americans used to vote as more of a unified group than they do now. FDR’s New Deal brought many Catholic voters into the Democratic party, eventually culminating with President Kennedy.

But today Catholics are just as split between the parties as the general population. White Catholics are about as likely to vote for Donald Trump as white Protestants.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden is a Catholic himself, and would become only the second Catholic president if elected. Despite being underrepresented in the presidency, Catholics are overrepresented in the legislature, making up 21% of the population and 30.5% of the 116th Congress.

Amy Coney Barrett would raise the number of Catholics on the Supreme Court to six, including Chief Justice John Roberts. Only one justice, Sonia Sotomayor, was appointed by a Democrat.