Barrett has not spoken publicly about her relationship to the religious community, which was founded in 1971 and includes “Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians and other denominational and nondenominational Christians,” according to its website.
Interest in Barrett and her background has been intensified by the condensed timeframe Republicans have laid out for her potential confirmation. That she would be replacing the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon and supporter of abortion rights, has only heightened the tensions surrounding the nomination process.
Barrett’s religious beliefs came up during 2017 confirmation hearings to her current seat on the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein questioned whether the nominee could separate her faith from her legal opinions. At issue then, as it is now, is how her faith would inform her approach, especially on legal challenges to abortion rights.
Barrett said at the time that her personal views would have “no bearing on the discharge of my duties as a judge” — on abortion or any other question before the court. She did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
But Barrett’s association with People of Praise was not mentioned during the 2017 hearing and only became widely known, and the subject of speculation, when the New York Times published a report on Barrett and the group that September, after she took senators’ questions but before her confirmation in the Senate.
Barrett has frequently appeared in a “Vine and Branches,” the People of Praise magazine. Those mentions included birth and adoption announcements for some of her children and other passing mentions and images. A number of online versions of the issues that include her appear to have been removed from the website — though it is unclear why that action was taken. The magazine’s website no longer has issues for May 2006, July 2008, December 2008, March 2010, Winter 2011, Summer 2012 and Fall 2012, which all contained references to Barrett, her husband or children.
The references were scrubbed between January 2017 and June 2017. Barrett was announced as the White House’s nominee as a circuit judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in May 2017.
In the questionnaire submitted to the Judiciary Committee when she was nominated by Trump to her current judgeship, Barrett disclosed that she served on the board of trustees of the Trinity School from 2015 to 2017. People of Praise founded the school in South Bend, Indiana, in 1981.
It opened two more — one in Eagan, Minnesota, in 1987 and other in Falls Church, Virginia, in 1998. While students who attend the schools are not necessarily members of People of Praise, the group’s communications director Sean Connolly said membership is a prerequisite to serving on the school’s board.
People of Praise also removed a blog post from September 2015 announcing that Barrett had been elected to the board of trustees of the Trinity School. It is unclear when or why it was taken down.
Connolly declined to comment on why the post had been taken down. He would not discuss Coney Barrett’s affiliation with People of Praise, citing official policy.
“Like most religious communities, People of Praise leaves it up to its members to decide whether to publicly disclose their involvement in our community. And like most religious communities, we do not publish a membership list,” Connolly told CNN.
People of Praise counts 1,700 members spread across 22 cities in North America and the Caribbean, including South Bend, Indiana, where Barrett lives. The group’s members make a “covenant,” or “lifelong promise of love and service to fellow community members,” according to its website, which distinguishes the commitment from an “oath” or “vow.”
It recently dropped its use of the term “handmaids,” which described a woman acting as a spiritual leader in the group and was taken from a Biblical description of Mary.
“We have chosen to rely on male leadership at the highest level of our community based on our desire to be a family of families,” Connolly said. “We follow the New Testament teaching that the husband is the head of the family, and we have patterned our community on this New Testament approach to family life.”
Connolly added that women “take on a variety of leadership roles within People of Praise, including serving as heads of several of our schools and directing ministries within our community.”
“Christian leadership always involves service and sacrifice, and in no way involves superiority or domination among spouses,” he said.
Barrett has charted a meteoric rise in academic and legal circles. Her colleagues at Notre Dame, where she was hired nearly two decades ago and still teaches, wrote an effusive letter of support when she was first nominated to the federal bench.
“As a scholarly community, we have a wide range of political views, as well as commitments to different approaches to judicial methodology and judicial craft,” they said. “We are united, however, in our judgment about Amy. She is a brilliant teacher and scholar, and a warm and generous colleague.”
She was confirmed to the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 with 55 votes in the Senate. Among the Democrats to cross party lines: Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016.