Meet People of Praise: Why This Far-Right Cult Shouldn’t Be Allowed Anywhere Near the Supreme Court
Tonight, President Donald Trump is scheduled to announce his nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court—and one of the possible nominees is 46-year-old Amy Coney Barrett, a federal appellate judge. Trump has made it clear that he plans to nominate someone who is not only fiscally conservative, but a severe social conservative who would have no problem overturning the Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973. Barrett fits the bill, especially in light of her reported association with an extremist, predominantly Catholic group called People of Praise.
When Trump nominated Barrett for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit last year, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California was concerned about her extreme social conservatism and asserted, “Dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.” Feinstein didn’t bring up People of Praise, but the New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein did in a September 28, 2017 article. And the group’s history is disturbing.
People of Praise are quite controversial within Catholicism. Founded in 1971, the group incorporates elements of fundamentalist Pentecostal Protestantism (such as speaking in tongues) and is considered a cult in mainstream Catholicism. Its practices include requiring members to swear an oath of loyalty to the group and teaching that wives must be submissive to their husbands, and in the past, People of Praise called its female leaders “handmaidens”—which is downright chilling if one is familiar with Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the 1990 film and 2017/2018 television series it has inspired. People of Praise embrace a highly patriarchal ideology, believing that while women can have some leadership positions, they ultimately must submit to male authority.
Although most of its members are Catholic, some Catholics argue that the group’s philosophy and practices have more in common with Protestant fundamentalism than traditional Catholicism. And in fact, People of Praise has some non-Catholic members, including fundamentalist Pentecostals.
In a July 5 article, the National Review’s Mona Charen asserted that criticism of Barrett and People of Praise in the media reflected an “anti-Catholic bigotry” and a “broader anti-religious bias”—which is nonsense. Within Catholicism, People of Praise are hardly mainstream and represent the lunatic fringe.
The U.K.’s Telegraph has reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is encouraging Trump to nominate someone other than Barrett and that McConnell would prefer Raymond Kethledge or Thomas Hardiman—both said to be on the president’s short list—instead. Trump, however, reportedly likes the idea of nominating a woman to the Supreme Court because he believes it would help the Republican Party attract more female voters in the November midterms and counter widespread assertions that he is a misogynist.
And Trump no doubt likes the fact that Barrett is only 46, which makes her almost 40 years younger than the 85-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If Barrett were to replace Justice Kennedy and lived as long as Ginsburg, she could be handing down far-right Supreme Court decisions well after 2055. And considering that those decisions might be influenced by People of Praise, that is a most disturbing possibility.