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Margaret Atwood Contradicts Herself on Whether Judge Barrett’s Religious Group Inspired The Handmaid’s Tale

Women dressed as handmaids to promote the television series The Handmaid’s Tale stand along a public street during the South by Southwest Music Film Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, March 11, 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

As the speculation surrounding Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s possible nomination to Supreme Court has grown, so too has the media’s attempts to impugn her character with ominous and dishonest references to her religious convictions.

Now, it seems that the author of the book at the center of the misguided obsession is getting in on the act by giving misleading and contradictory statements about the role that Barrett’s religious group, People of Praise, played in the development of her best-selling novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.

The novel, written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is a horror story tailor-made for progressive feminists, many of whom have donned the costumes that the female characters are forced to wear in the television adaptation of the book during protests in the nation’s capital.

The novel and its author were referenced in several recent news articles about People of Praise, the charismatic Christian group founded in 1971 that Judge Barrett and her family belong to. Atwood’s work, published in 1985, paints a dystopian picture of theocratic and patriarchal society in which select men govern and exploit women’s bodies. The connection between the novel and the group relies on a single common term: Until recently, female advisers in People of Praise were called “handmaidens,” a title they retired after Atwood’s novel was popularized by a Hulu television series.

With Barrett back in the news, pieces published this week in Newsweek and Reuters initially attempted to paint the organization as the inspiration for Atwood’s work. But, as National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru has pointed out, both pieces distorted the relevant facts.

Newsweek was forced to append a correction noting that Atwood “has never specifically mentioned the group as being the inspiration for her work,” while also admitting that it confused the People of Praise for another, different charismatic Christian organization, which Atwood referenced while discussing her research process for a New Yorker profile. And Reuters changed its headline from “Handmaid’s Tale? U.S. Supreme Court candidate’s religious community under scrutiny” to “As U.S. Supreme Court nomination looms, a religious community draws fresh interest” over the course of multiple edits.

But Atwood appeared to definitively put the controversy to rest in an interview published Wednesday. Speaking to fellow author Kate Schatz as part of a program with The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz, Atwood denied that the People of Praise inspired her book.

“It wasn’t them. It was a different one but the same idea,” she said.

When Politico published its own deep-dive into Barrett’s religious background on Thursday, however, Atwood seemingly backtracked, saying she was not sure if People of Praise had inspired her work, and saying she could not say anything definitive without consulting her records — which are currently locked away in a University of Toronto archive that is closed because of the pandemic. “Unless I can go back into the clippings file, I hesitate to say anything specific,” Atwood told Politico in a statement. Politico made no mention of Atwood’s contradictory comments, which were published just one day earlier.

People of Praise communications director Sean Connolly told National Review in a statement that “there has never been any evidence whatsoever to suggest that the People of Praise played a role in inspiring Margaret Atwood’s book.”

“In suggesting a link between People of Praise and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the burden of proof clearly lies with the news outlet making such a claim,” he added.

Atwood did not return a request for comment made through her publisher. A Politico spokeswoman did not return a request for comment by press-time.

Send a tip to the news team at NR.

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