The Corner

Law & the Courts

Washington Post Blockbuster: Amy Coney Barrett Was Involved in a Faith Community

Judge Amy Coney Barrett at an event to announce her nomination to the Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 26, 2020 (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Speaking of Barrett, the Washington Post has a big report about how she was a “handmaid” in the Christian group People of Praise. The term “handmaid” now has awful connotations for progressives, since all they know about it comes from a TV show on Hulu, but its source is the Bible (“And Mary said, ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to thy word’”).

People of Praise was devoted to the entirely praiseworthy project of helping people more fully live out their Christian faith:

At its formation, People of Praise wanted “to have a more intense Christian community,” said the Rev. James Connelly, a historian of religion based at the University of Notre Dame who was close to some early members. “They wanted to talk about religion, spiritual life, their experiences, to do things together that might not be to the average person’s liking. Not just Mass on Sunday, but something much more intense.”

The handmaids weren’t exactly engaged in nefarious activities:

Former members including Art Wang, a member from the late 1980s until 2015, told The Post that handmaids, now known as “women leaders,” give advice to other women on issues such as child rearing and marriage.

Barrett lived with a family involved in the group while she was a student:

Since its earliest days, some People of Praise members have lived in communal homes or lodged with elders before marrying. Former members said this was a way for older members to show a model of family life. Over the years, multiple members stayed at the Ranaghans’ nine-bedroom house in South Bend, often while studying at Notre Dame and after graduating, former members said.

Barrett lived with the Ranaghans when she was a Notre Dame law student, according to a person who knew her at the time.

There is obviously no scandal in any of this — in fact, it should only serve to deepen our understanding of how Barrett came to be such an exemplary person and mother.

The main thing that’s going to be awkward is explaining why there were apparent attempts to hide Barrett’s affiliation with the group: “Numerous references to Barrett and her family that previously appeared on People of Praise’s official website have since disappeared from the site, according to a Post review of versions of the site that are hosted by the Internet Archive.”

If this indeed was a deliberate attempt to obscure her role, it was ill-considered on a couple of levels — it was bound to be found out, and, more fundamentally, there was no reason to do it, since there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

As for the suggestion underlying all this that Barrett’s role in People of Praise somehow shows that she’s been a willing tool of the patriarchy, it is completely absurd. She’s an incredibly accomplished woman about to ascend to the highest court in the land.

As Jim puts it in today’s Jolt:

As mentioned on The Editors podcast yesterday, just think of where Amy Coney Barrett would be now if her husband wasn’t keeping her down in accordance to some ancient sexist religious dogma: Instead of being a “mere” federal appellate judge, professor of law at Notre Dame, and nominee to be a Supreme Court justice, she would have already united all of the nations of earth, built a fearsome space armada, and began her conquest of the known universe.


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