Did Amy Coney Barrett’s religious group inspire ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?

Following the death of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020, Justice Amy Coney Barrett was chosen as US President Donald Trump’s nominee for the court. But his religious affiliation with a Christian group has come under scrutiny and widespread rumour, as his treatment of women oddly seemed to mirror a few elements of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.

Snopes readers shared memes and articles about Barrett with us and asked us to confirm her religious affiliation with People of Praise. Many questions were asked whether this group had served as an inspiration for the world of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, in which the rights of women are severely limited.

Reports of Barrett’s membership in the group and his alleged role in inspiring Atwood’s book sparked outrage on social media. “Oh look her fucking cult literally inspired the handmaids tale,” one person tweeted. “Cool. That’s cool.”

However, we could not find instances of Atwood directly referencing People of Praise in her research for the book or in later interviews, and she has stated on more than one occasion that her inspiration came from clippings. release on a “different but similar” band. .

Who are the people of praise?

In September 2017, The New York Times reported that Barrett — now a federal and college judge — was part of the conservative Christian group People of Praise. According to the group’s website, the movement was involved in “the growth of charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church”. The charismatic movement includes Christians of many denominations – Barrett herself is a devout Catholic – and in the 1960s it embraced Pentecostal practices like speaking in tongues, belief in prophecy and divine healing.

Barrett’s father, Mike Coney, was also the group’s chapter coordinator. In 1981 the group established Trinity Schools, a number of private Christian schools across the country. According to a disclosure Barrett filed as part of her 2017 federal judicial nomination, she was a trustee at a Trinity school.

The New York Times report also said members of the group “swear a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another,” and are accountable to a personal adviser, who is called a “leader.” if it is a man, and “servant” if it is a woman. Otherwise:

“The group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should have authority over the family. Current and former members say chiefs and servants provide direction on important decisions, including who to date or marry, where to live, whether to take a job or buy a house, and how to raise children.

The National Catholic Reporter, a liberal media organization, covered People of Praise and its allegations of mistreatment of its members in a 2018 report. But the group’s leaders have defended the practice of seeking advice from a “chief as a means of receiving spiritual direction from other members. Craig Lent, a leader and member of the movement, told the National Catholic Reporter:

“‘He’s just someone you can talk to with confidence,’ Lent said, explaining that when he was a young father, his ‘head’ gave him advice on topics as varied as the parenting and septic systems He said he didn’t find the process to feel controlling.

Coral Anika Theill, a former member of the group, described her experiences in the 1970s and 1980s as “traumatic”, while admitting that there were regional differences between the group’s practices.

Adrian J. Reimers, founding member of People of Praise who was kicked out of the group for raising concerns about them for having too much control over their members’ lives, wrote a book about them in 2017. In it he describes how a married couple the woman in the group is “meant always to reflect the fact that she is under the authority of her husband”.

Tim Kaiser, another former member who left at the age of 18 in 1997, told Newsweek about the group’s rule about women submitting to their husbands:

“In the case of a woman, her ‘head’ is her husband — he takes care of her. He is the person who is supposed to make all his moral decisions and take responsibility for the state of his soul. It’s really scary, but that’s the idea.

A handbook for parents from Trinity School, where Barrett was a trustee, said marriage was “between a man and a woman” and that “the only proper place for sexual activity is within the confines of marital love. “. These views, however, are consistent with traditional Catholic teachings.

Update: It should also be noted that these past reports do not fully represent how the group operates today. Since we first published this story, an October 7 Washington Post report revealed more details about Barrett’s role in People of Praise and their practices. In a statement to The Washington Post, People of Praise spokesman Sean Connolly said the group changed the title from handmaids to “women leaders” in 2017. He said in a 2018 statement that the title had been dropped due to the recognition that its meaning had “changed drastically in our culture in recent years”.

A 2010 directory of the group stated that Barrett also held the title of “maidservant” and that her mother played the same role. Connolly argued that the role of women leaders was “to help other women who seek advice and guidance.”

We contacted Connolly to learn more about these reported practices. We also left messages for Judge Barrett’s office and the University of Notre Dame School of Law, where she is a faculty member. We will update this post if we have any news.

Did the group inspire Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”?

The second element of the claim focuses on whether this group actually served as the inspiration for “The Handmaid’s Tale”. In the novel, a futuristic American society is ruled by a Christian fundamentalist government and women are denied their rights, including reproductive rights. The most fertile of them are designated as “servants” to give birth to the children of a ruling class of men.

Atwood herself has not explicitly referenced People of Praise in past interviews discussing the inspiration for the book, although she did refer to an unnamed “charismatic Catholic spin-off sect” in a 1986 interview. with the New York Times.

I started noticing that a lot of things that I thought I was more or less making up were happening now, and in fact more of them have happened since the book was published. There is a sect now, a Catholic charismatic spin-off sect, which calls women servants. They don’t practice polygamy of that kind, but they threaten servant girls according to the Bible verse I use in the book: sit down and be silent.

A 2017 New Yorker profile describes his research material for the book. She cut newspaper stories about Romania’s ban on abortion and contraception, Canada’s declining birth rate and attempts by US Republicans to withhold federal funding for abortion clinics. Also in the profile: “An Associated Press article reported that a Catholic congregation in New Jersey had been taken over by a fundamentalist sect in which wives were called ‘servants’ – a word Atwood emphasized.”

According to Newsweek, this clipping referred to People of Hope, a cult based in Newark, New Jersey. But a 2017 report in the New Jersey Star-Ledger pointed out that the October 1985 Associated Press article didn’t come out until after Atwood’s book has been published. Also, based on the branches listed on their website, People of Praise does not have a presence in the state of New Jersey. “The Handmaid’s Tale” was printed in Canada in the fall of 1985. It is possible that Atwood pulled this clipping around the time of the book’s release and included it in his research papers.

Atwood herself offered slightly conflicting accounts. In a September 23, 2020 interview with UC Santa Cruz, she said the band had not serve as inspiration for the book: “It wasn’t them. It was different but the same idea,” she said. But in a statement to Politico, she said she was “not sure” if People of Praise was among the inspirations for her book. At the time, she couldn’t access her notes in the University of Toronto Rare Book Library due to COVID-19 restrictions, and said, “Unless I can go back to the file clippings, I’m hesitant to say anything specific.”

On September 27, she tweeted a correction to someone claiming that People of Praise inspired the title of her book, saying “not this band…a different but similar band”:

We’ve reached out to Atwood through her rep to learn more about her inspirations for the events of the novel, and we’ll update this post if we hear back.

Since there is documentation and media coverage linking Barrett to People of Praise, and past reports regarding their practices, but no evidence from Atwood whether this group was the direct inspiration for “The Handmaid’s Tale”, we call this claim “mostly false”.