CNA Staff, Oct 7, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Senators on Wednesday decried attacks on Catholic Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s religious beliefs.
“It is the definition of discrimination to assert that Justice Barrett’s particular faith makes her uniquely unqualified for this promotion,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stated on Wednesday. “Every Supreme Court Justice in history has possessed personal views.”
Responding to media and political criticism that Barrett’s faith-based beliefs rendered her incapable of serving as a justice, McConnell condemned the suggestions “that Judge Barrett is too Christian, or the wrong kind of Christian, to be a good judge.”
McConnell’s remarks came after multiple reports on Tuesday focused on Barrett’s membership in the ecumenical Christian group People of Praise, and suggested that her membership of the group meant she believed that women should be submissive to men.
Barrett currently serves a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and was formerly a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School. A mother of seven, she is a member of People of Praise, an ecumenical charismatic group founded in the 1970s for Christians to practice their faith in community.
The group has previously been criticized as a “cult” where husbands and wives were previously referred to as “heads” and “handmaidens”–both Scriptural references. Shortly before Barrett was nominated by Trump to serve on the Supreme Court on Sept. 26, People of Praise was hacked, and its membership roles accessed.
Bishop Peter Smith, the auxiliary bishop of Portland and a member of the priestly association Brotherhood of the People of Praise, told CNA that original members started a “covenant,” not an oath, to pray together, tithe, and meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects. He added that it is non-partisan, saying that he knew members of the group who were both Republican and Democrat.
On Thursday, The Guardian reported that Barrett, while a law student in the 1990s, resided in the house of the co-founder of People of Praise. The paper called the group “secretive” and one which “has been criticized for dominating the lives of its members and subjugating women.”
“The revelation,” The Guardian added, raises questions about the co-founder’s influence on Barrett’s current beliefs, saying that it “offers new clues about the possible influence of the People of Praise, and one of its leaders, on a woman who may shape the direction of the supreme court for the next 40 to 50 years.”
Late on Tuesday evening, the Washington Post noted Barrett's position of “handmaiden” in People of Praise, and reported on the group's promotion of “obedience” and “submission” of wives to husbands. The paper interviewed former members of the group who said that women held lesser positions in the group to men, and that wives were expected to cede decision-making in the home to husbands.
CNA previously spoke with a former member who acknowledged that People of Praise could foster unhealthy behavior without proper supervision, but that “the rank and file People of Praise members are very, very good people, wholeheartedly dedicated to the Lord.” Another critic, philosopher Adrian Reimers, said the group’s theological approach had “serious errors.”
On Thursday, senators and Catholics said the new reports insinuated that Barrett’s Catholic faith was proof she would be influenced by extremist beliefs as a judge.
“Catholic believes Catholic stuff, story at eleven,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) quipped, calling the “conspiracy theory” that Barrett was “controlled” by the group “bigoted and sexist.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the “attacks” on Barrett’s faith “a disgrace” and which “insult millions of American believers.”
“The secular left says they’re for progress, but they’ve just wandered back into the embarrassing tropes of the 1960s, when some argued John F. Kennedy would obey the Pope over the national interest,” he said.
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), a Catholic, said that he also “tried to save money on housing in law school,” and decried the “desperate attacks” on Barrett’s faith.
Matthew Franck, a lecturer in politics at Princeton University and senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, tweeted that the Post’s “thorough reporting” revealed “that there is nothing much to say about People of Praise except that the members appear to help one another live more virtuous Christian lives.”
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