Judge Amy Coney Barrett has made clear through multiple choices in her private life that she is likely to use her role in the judicial system to push the country backwards in terms of civil rights and equality, both for women and LGBTQ+ people. She has created little in terms of a judicial record that would suggest she can separate her belief system from legal decision-making, and senators will be doing the country an unforgivable disservice if they allow this nomination to skate through before the election.
Judge Barrett belongs to People of Praise, a small and insular Christian group with about 1,650 members in which she was raised in New Orleans. As the New York Times explains, the group's belief system has its roots in both the Catholic Church and the more fringe-y traditions of Charismatic Christianity that arose out of Pentecostalism, which include speaking in tongues. The group has been erroneously credited with inspiring the conservative Christian sect Gilead at the center of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. (Atwood credits her study of American Puritanism while at Harvard, and she says she was inspired to write her dystopian novel after hearing groups on the religious right discuss what they would do with women's rights if they took political power in the 1980s.)
But the comparison isn't far-fetched. People of Praise believes in traditional roles for women in the family, that men are the heads of households and in control of all decisions, and until the TV show gave the word a bad connotation, the group even used the term "handmaids" to refer to all female leaders in the group — including Barrett, who was reportedly listed in a directory as a "handmaid" for the South Bend, Indiana chapter.
Another odd aspect: single adults are often made to live with married couples and their families, becoming parts of their households before getting married themselves.
One former member of the group, Ailish Byrne, who left as a young adult after being raised in People of Praise by her parents, called the experience "extremely suffocating" in speaking to the Times, and said, "It's a whole different level than being a member of a church."
"As an ecumenical community, we strive to be one of those rare places in 21st-century life where men and women with a wide variety of political and religious views can live together in harmony," a spokesperson told the paper. "We are a Christian community, not a political group."
To be clear, People of Praise is a covenant community and not a church — its members spread across 22 American cities attend their own churches but then meet with other group members for their own spiritual services for hours afterward every Sunday. And unlike a cult, children in the community are freely allowed to leave and denounce their membership, which they reportedly frequently do.
But, like a church, People of Praise operates its own private schools. The group has three schools in Indiana, Minnesota, and Virginia under the moniker Trinity Schools Inc., and Judge Barrett served on the board for the schools beginning in 2015. As the Associated Press reports today, the schools promote the homophobic and sexist-conservative teachings of People of Praise that have remained consistent over decades — namely that homosexuality is "an abomination," sex should occur only within marriage, and marriage must only be between a man and a woman.
According to over a dozen people associated with Trinity Schools, per the AP, the school group made a practice of discriminating against children of same-sex households, and against LGBTQ+ teachers. Legal experts say this kind of discrimination is legal, and Trinity issued a statement assuring that it did not "unlawfully discriminate with respect to race, color, gender, national origin, age, disability, or other legally protected classifications under applicable law."
It was no accident that Judge Barrett used the outdated and offensive phrase "sexual preference" during her Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing last week — it was a rare slip-up in her otherwise well practiced, professional-seeming subterfuge. Senators should make no mistake here: any nominee whose beliefs insist upon infringements of basic civil rights for LGBTQ+ people, and who believes sexuality it a choice, has no place on the Supreme Court in the 21st Century. Barrett isn't even in line with the Pope, who today we learn supports same-sex civil unions and said that "Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family."
If a school that Barrett served on the board of had systematically discriminated against Black students or students of color, we wouldn't even be debating this — her nomination would be dead in the water.
There is a vast amount of difference between tolerance of a person's religious beliefs and acceptance that a justice on our nation's highest court has belonged for years to a bizarrely backwards Christian community that promotes discriminatory and sexist ideas that are anathema to basic civil rights for millions of Americans. Barrett has described herself simply as a devout Catholic like her mentor Antonin Scalia, but the truth is far less socially or legally benign. And anyone who believes that she won't twist her legal philosophy and craft her decisions to satisfy a belief system this dogmatic and lifelong is at best naive, and at worst cynically trying to sell this nomination to centrist senators who don't have the energy for a fight right now.
But fight they must. Republicans have done enough damage to the democratic fabric of this nation both in their choosing of Donald Trump four years ago, and in blocking President Obama from filling seats on the federal bench and filling Scalia's seat in February 2016, nine months before an election. They then paved the way for Trump to stack the federal courts with unqualified judges simply because they pass some sort of conservative litmus test, and who now will be building careers with the hope of higher appointments later on.
Justice Roberts can sling rhetoric all he wants about how the court must remain apolitical, and how he bases his decisions on the Constitution and precedent alone. But has anyone who's observed the high court in the last two decades, and read the decisions written by the liberal wing and the conservative wing, come away with anything other than the clear knowledge that a justice can find the legal and rhetorical means to support any decision, and their decisions are very consistently in line with their religious and political affiliations? Because they're human. And humans have a harder time breaking from their own belief systems than they do finding intellectual ways to prop them up and justify them.
The "dogma lives loudly" within her, as Senator Dianne Feinstein infamously said three years ago during Barrett's confirmation hearing for the federal bench.
Amy Coney Barrett will never set her beliefs aside, no matter how cleverly she can use "originalism" or whatever as legal cover. And while senators may see this as a fight to take up at some later date, when the balance of the court is actually at stake, they are doing political violence to women and their LGBTQ+ constituents if they confirm Barrett. Her tenure on the court will be long and egregious in its attempts to roll the clock back on civil rights. Mark my words.
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