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Justice Amy Coney Barrett Served As A ‘Handmaid’. What Does This Mean?


When Justice Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, her distinguished legal career was expected to be in the spotlight. However, it was her involvement with a religious community, ‘People of Praise’, that captured significant media attention and became a point of contention during her confirmation process. Multiple sources, including Forbes and The Washington Post, noted that Barrett had held the position of a ‘handmaid’ within the group, a term that garnered interest, especially given its contemporary cultural associations. The specifics of what this role entailed were subject to scrutiny and discussion. The New York Times offered insights into ‘People of Praise’ as a tight-knit faith community, further intensifying public curiosity about Barrett’s affiliations.

While Vox clarified the distinctions between Barrett’s role and associations made to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the association added a layer of intrigue for those less familiar with the intricacies of the group’s practices. The Guardian brought to light certain allegations surrounding ‘People of Praise’, revealing leaked videos that depicted emotionally charged situations involving group members. Amidst these revelations was an underlying concern shared by many: the potential for religious extremism influencing the highest court in the land. For some, Barrett’s deep involvement with ‘People of Praise’ raised questions about whether she could objectively adjudicate on matters of constitutional rights, religious freedoms, and the separation of church and state.

As America watched her confirmation proceedings, the examination of Barrett’s beliefs, her role within the ‘People of Praise’, and the implications of her membership therein became intertwined with the broader questions of how personal beliefs intersect with public service and the potential ramifications of religious ideology influencing judicial decisions.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett: Unveiling Her Life and Deep Ties with People of Praise

Amy Coney Barrett’s ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court was not only a testament to her legal prowess but also brought to light her association with a lesser-known religious community, People of Praise. Her upbringing, faith, and this association became prominent discussion points during her nomination.

From New Orleans to Notre Dame

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Barrett’s early years were deeply entrenched in Catholic traditions. This foundation of faith laid the groundwork for both her personal beliefs and her understanding of the law.

She pursued her passion for law at Notre Dame Law School, graduating at the top of her class. It was during these formative years that her path intersected with People of Praise.

Understanding People of Praise

People of Praise is a charismatic Christian group that believes in a direct personal experience of God through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They emphasize traditional gender roles, mutual support among members, and a commitment to living life as a shared community experience, as highlighted by The New York Times.

However, it’s the group’s unique terminologies and practices that garnered attention during Barrett’s nomination. As reported by both Forbes and The Washington Post, Barrett held the title of a ‘handmaid’ within this group. Contrary to public perception, especially in light of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fiction, in the context of People of Praise, a ‘handmaid’ historically referred to a leadership role for women, one focused on guiding and supporting female members.

Yet, The Guardian unearthed videos that offered a deeper, more nuanced look into the community’s practices. These videos painted a picture of emotional group sessions, where members were brought to tears, further igniting public curiosity about the depth of Barrett’s involvement.

Jezebel further deepened the narrative by disclosing that Barrett had lived in the home of People of Praise’s co-founder during her earlier years. Such intricate ties between her and the core of the community highlighted her commitment and deep-seated beliefs in the group’s tenets.

Barrett’s Role and Controversies

Within the People of Praise community, Barrett’s position as a ‘handmaid’ wasn’t merely titular. It showcased her deep involvement, guiding other women, and being a part of a spiritual hierarchy that emphasized the idea of headship, as explored by The New York Times. This belief emphasizes that men are spiritual leaders of their families, and women submit to their husbands’ spiritual authority.

However, her nomination brought forward not just her beliefs but also opened discussions around the group’s practices. Allegations reported by The Guardian in June 2022 unveiled legal claims against the founder of People of Praise, further intensifying scrutiny.

People of Praise: A Closer Look at Origins, Beliefs, and Controversies

Origins and Early Days

Founded amidst the spiritual resurgence of the 1970s, People of Praise arose as part of the broader Charismatic Renewal movement that swept the United States. The group’s origins are intertwined with the post-Vatican II reforms, marking a unique fusion of Pentecostal practices and staunch Catholic doctrines.

The zeal of this community leaned heavily into practices such as speaking in tongues, prophesying, and claims of healing — a testament to their charismatic beliefs. While many Christian communities of the time focused on the renewal of personal faith, People of Praise, as mentioned by The New York Times, embraced a tight-knit communal life. They not only prayed together but also made covenants to support each other, both spiritually and materially.

Jezebel notes a particularly intimate detail, revealing that Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett once resided in the home of the Christian group’s co-founder. This not only gives insight into Barrett’s deep connections with the group but also highlights the close-knit nature of this community.

Doctrines and Beliefs

Rooted in tradition, People of Praise have distinct beliefs that set them apart. They’ve always advocated for traditional gender roles, as noted by both The Washington Post and Forbes. These gender roles were notably underscored by terms like ‘handmaid’, a title used within the community to signify women in leadership roles, specifically tasked with guiding and mentoring female members. Though after drawing attention, especially with contemporary associations to dystopian literature like “The Handmaid’s Tale” — a connection expounded upon by Vox — the community shifted away from this terminology.

Diving deeper, The New York Times sheds light on a central tenet of the community: the concept of headship. This doctrine stresses the spiritual authority of men within families. Women, in accordance with this belief, are expected to acknowledge their husband’s spiritual guidance, positioning themselves in a role of submission.

Controversies and Revelations

No group with such profound beliefs escapes scrutiny or controversy. The detailed accounts from The Guardian unveil a layer of the community’s practices that had been under wraps. Their reportage unearthed videos of intense group sessions, where members, particularly women, were often emotionally overwhelmed, leading to tears. These revelations, while showcasing the profound impact of the community’s practices, also raise questions about its psychological implications on its members.

But the controversies don’t end there. A separate investigation from The Guardian in June 2022 brought to the fore legal claims concerning the founder of People of Praise. While the exact nature of these claims is intricate, they undeniably cast a shadow on the group’s reputation and further fueled public curiosity and skepticism.

The evolution and practices of People of Praise exemplify the complexities when deeply-held religious beliefs intersect with modern societal perspectives. As the community continues its journey, it will undoubtedly remain a subject of both admiration and scrutiny in the public eye.

The Tale of Two Terms: ‘Handmaids’ in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and People of Praise

In recent years, the term ‘handmaid’ has been thrust into the spotlight, largely due to its presence in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” and its association with the religious group to which Justice Amy Coney Barrett belongs, People of Praise. Understanding the origin, evolution, and misinterpretations surrounding this term is pivotal to differentiate fact from fiction.

Historically, as reported by The New York Times, within the People of Praise community, members were accountable to a personal adviser. These advisers provided guidance on significant life decisions, ranging from choosing life partners to deciding where to live and how to raise children. For male advisers, the title “heads” was designated, and for female advisers, the term “handmaid” was used. This title has since evolved, and female advisers are now addressed as “leaders.”

However, it’s the confluence of this religious nomenclature with Atwood’s work that stirred controversy and conjecture. In a 1987 interview with The New York Times, Atwood referenced her inspiration for the novel, pointing to “a Catholic charismatic spinoff sect, which calls the women handmaids.” When this quote re-emerged in 2020, it led many to hastily link the People of Praise to her novel, especially since the community once referred to women advisers as “handmaids.” As a result, Newsweek even reported that People of Praise served as an inspiration for “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

However, this connection was debunked by Atwood herself. When prompted by Politico about her 1987 comments, Atwood confessed uncertainty about which group she was referencing, largely due to her inability to access her archives at the University of Toronto, owing to Covid-19 restrictions. However, in past interactions with journalists where she reviewed her archives for “The Handmaid’s Tale”, she consistently mentioned the People of Hope, not People of Praise.

People of Hope, a separate fundamentalist group located in New Jersey, has been described by some former members as cult-like. The group refers to wives as “handmaids,” and it’s believed that Atwood derived inspiration for her novel’s terminology from an Associated Press clipping about People of Hope. This news piece, which she reportedly underlined, reignited debates on the origins of the “handmaid” term in her novel.

Notably, as documented by the Star-Ledger, there’s an inconsistency regarding the timeline. The aforementioned AP story emerged post the publication of “The Handmaid’s Tale” in 1985, implying Atwood couldn’t have extracted the term from that particular article. Nevertheless, the AP story she frequently showcases to reporters distinctly refers to People of Hope, not People of Praise.

This intricate web of associations underscores the importance of distinguishing between People of Praise and People of Hope, and more broadly, between artistic inspiration and real-world religious practices. The true relationship between Atwood’s haunting tale and contemporary religious groups is far more nuanced than many realize.

Allegations and Concerns Surrounding ‘People of Praise’

The ‘People of Praise’ community, a Christian group with deep ties to the Charismatic Catholic movement, has faced its share of controversies and allegations. As the spotlight grew due to Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s association with the group, numerous details surfaced about its practices, beliefs, and alleged misdeeds.

  1. Emotional Intensity and Secrecy:
    • The Guardian in August 2022 unveiled footage which showcased the religious group’s ability to emotionally move its members, even to the point of tears. The specific contents or circumstances around the video were not detailed, but the visual representation indicates a potent emotional impact of the group’s practices or sessions.
    • In another report from June 2022, The Guardian pointed to legal claims which cast light upon questionable aspects of ‘People of Praise’, particularly related to its founder.
  2. Role of Women and the ‘Handmaid’ Controversy:
    • The term ‘handmaid’, previously used by ‘People of Praise’ to denote female leaders, stirred controversy. Articles from both Forbes and The Washington Post confirm Justice Barrett’s role as a ‘handmaid’ within the group. This title, in the broader cultural context, invokes thoughts of subjugation, especially post the release of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”.
    • Delving deeper, The New York Times highlighted that all members of the ‘People of Praise’ were accountable to a personal adviser. These advisers wielded considerable influence, guiding on matters ranging from marital decisions to parenting styles. It was these advisers that were termed ‘handmaids’ in the context of female leaders, while their male counterparts were called ‘heads’.
  3. Intimate Living Arrangements:
    • Highlighting the depth of commitment some members had to the community, Jezebel brought to light that Justice Barrett had, at one point, lived in the residence of ‘People of Praise’s’ co-founder. This detail paints a picture of close-knit relationships and possibly deep-seated trust within the community’s members.
  4. Serious Accusations of Child Abuse:
    • Perhaps one of the gravest concerns around ‘People of Praise’ emerged from a Guardian report in June 2022. The article touched upon child abuse accusations linked directly to the group’s founder. The nature and extent of these allegations were not exhaustively detailed in the sources provided but are undeniably serious.
  5. Clarifying Misconceptions:
    • Amid the controversies, Vox offered clarity on the term ‘handmaid’. While the title was indeed popular among several conservative Christian communities in the 1980s, the inspiration for Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was not ‘People of Praise’ but rather stemmed from another group, ‘People of Hope’. Atwood herself has highlighted this distinction, pointing to the misinterpretation and misassociation over the years.