By now, the name Amy Coney Barrett has likely appeared on your newsfeed a dozen times since this weekend. Why? The U.S. circuit court judge is a speculated frontrunner to take the open Supreme Court seat left after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Friday. President Donald Trump has already vowed to fill the spot, saying he could nominate someone as early as the end of this week. And it looks like Barrett is at the top of every list of rumored nominees, which was all but confirmed when Trump and Barrett met on Monday afternoon.
Barrett has been on Trump’s shortlist for Supreme Court for years now and was among the finalists considered to replace U.S. Justice Anthony Kennedy when he retired in July 2018. The seat was filled by Brett Kavanaugh, but according to a report from Axios, Trump has been saving Ginsburg’s seat for Barrett.
But Barrett, who started her career as a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia and has been described as his “ideological heir” due to her staunchly conservative stance on the subjects of abortion and healthcare, has one affiliation that is perhaps most concerning. According to author Margaret Atwood, her dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale was inspired (read: haunted) by multiple religious groups, which many believe includes People of Praise, which Barrett is reportedly affiliated with.
Barrett identifies as Catholic, but more specifically, she is affiliated with an ecumenical Christian group, the People of Praise. The group believes in a number of Pentecostal staples such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and divine healings. Founded in 1971, the community remains quite small, claiming about 1,800 adult members across North America, reports the New York Times. Though roughly 90 percent of members identify as Catholic, there are a number of doctrinal deviations.
For one, members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty to one another and are assigned a personal adviser to whom they are held accountable. For men, this adviser is called a “head,” and for women, a “handmaid.” People of Praise preaches the idea that men are the authority figure over the family including their wives.
Atwood says that the groups like this served as primary inspiration for The Handmaid's Tale — and it's not hard to see why. In numerous interviews, Atwood alluded to the group but did not call them out by name. In an interview for the New York Times Book Review in 1986, she said, “There is a sect now, a Catholic charismatic spinoff sect, which calls the women handmaids.” Members of People of Praise are assigned accountability advisers. For men, they are called a “head;” for women, a “handmaid.” That is until the popularity of the book and subsequent television series grew and the group changed the title to “woman leader.”
It's also clear how deeply Barrett is involved in People of Praise. According to the NYT, both Barrett and her husband’s fathers served as leaders in the group. Barrett has also appeared in issues of the group’s magazine, Vine & Branches. One appearance was an announcement that she and her husband adopted a child. Another was a photograph of Barrett attending a People of Praise women’s gathering. But these once-documented links have disappeared since her Circuit Court nomination.
There are some indications that Barrett and People of Praise have tried to conceal her affiliation with the group. When asked, spokespeople for the community were tight-lipped about Barrett’s connection to People of Praise. And although Federal bench nominees are required to fill out a detailed questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barrett did not list any religious affiliations on her form, which is publicly available on the Senate Judiciary website.
We know a lot of people have jokingly said that if Trump gets elected – or in this case reelected – that the alternate reality of The Handmaid’s Tale will become real. While we are still optimistic that it will remain the fiction of books and television, Barrett’s potential nomination to the Supreme Court is concerning.