Some worry about judicial candidate’s ties to religious group

One of President Trump’s judicial nominees became something of a hero for religious conservatives after being questioned during a Senate hearing this month on whether his Roman Catholic faith would influence his decisions on the bench.

The candidate, Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor vying for an appeals court seat, had herself raised the issue in articles and speeches over the years. Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee focused on his writings and in doing so prompted accusations that they were engaged in religious bigotry.

“Dogma lives loudly within you,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said in what has become an infamous phrase. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, accused his colleagues of employing an unconstitutional “religious test” for office.

Ms Barrett told senators she was a staunch Catholic and her religious beliefs would not affect her decisions as an appeals judge. But his membership in a small, tight-knit Christian group called People of Praise was never brought up in court and could have led to even more intense questioning.

Some of the group’s practices would surprise many Catholic devotees. Members of the group swear a lifelong loyalty oath to each other, called a covenant, and are assigned and responsible to a personal advisor, called a “leader” for males and a “maidservant” for females. 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 give 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.

Lawyers have said such loyalty oaths could raise legitimate questions about a judicial candidate’s independence and impartiality. Academics have said in interviews that while there was certainly no religious test for the position, it would have been relevant for senators to consider what it means for a judicial candidate to take an oath to a group that could exercise significant authority over the lives of its members. .

“These groups can become so absorbing that it’s hard for a person to withhold individual judgment,” said Sarah Barringer Gordon, professor of constitutional law and history at the University of Pennsylvania. “I don’t think it’s discriminatory or anti-religious to want to know more” about his relationship with the band.

Ms Barrett, through a spokesperson for Notre Dame Law School, where she is on the faculty, declined several interview requests for this article.

A People of Praise leader, Craig S. Lent, said the group was not ‘infamous or controversial’ but that it was not its policy to confirm whether Ms Barrett or anyone else was a member . Mr. Lent, whose title is general coordinator and who has been with the group for nearly 40 years, said in interviews that the group aims to create community and long-term friendships, and that members have a “broad range of political opinions.

“We’re not trying to control people,” said Lent, who is also a Notre Dame electrical engineering and physics professor. “And there’s never any guarantee that the leader is always right. You must discern and act in the Lord.

He later added, “If and when members hold political, judicial or administrative office, we will certainly not tell them how to discharge their responsibilities.”

By all accounts, Ms Barrett appears to be headed for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, a position one rung below the Supreme Court. She is often mentioned as a potential candidate for the High Court, especially if Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were to retire.

Ms Barrett, 45, has never served on the bench but has won praise for her legal credentials. Auxiliary of Justice Antonin Scalia, she was hired at the age of 30 at the Faculty of Law Notre Dame.

She is a member of the conservative Federalist Society, a conduit for Judicial candidates to Trump’s White House. More than 70 law professors across the country have signed a glowing letter of support. A separate endorsement letter was signed by all fellow faculty members.

The sight of Democratic senators grilling Ms Barrett only raised her profile. A conservative justice group has started running digital ads targeting Senator Feinstein. Cheeky t-shirts and coffee mugs soon appeared for sale emblazoned with Senator Feinstein’s dogma remark.

Ms Barrett was asked in particular about a 1998 scholarly paper in which she and her co-author argued that sometimes Catholic trial judges should recuse themselves from the sentencing phase in sentencing cases. dead. During the hearing, Ms Barrett recused herself from that position, saying she could not think of any category of cases in which she would recuse herself because of her faith.

Current and former members of People of Praise said Ms Barrett and her husband, who have seven children, both belong to the group and their fathers served as leaders. The community, founded in 1971, claims approximately 1,800 adult members in 22 locations in North America and the Caribbean.

The group believes in prophecy, speaking in tongues and divine healings, staples of Pentecostal churches that some Catholics have also embraced in a movement called Charismatic Renewal. The People of Praise was one of the early leaders in the flourishing of this movement in North America. It is ecumenical, but about 90% of its members are Catholic.

To achieve the group’s communal vision, unmarried members are sometimes placed to live in homes with married couples and their children, and members often seek to buy or rent homes near other members.

Some former members criticize the group for deviating from Catholic doctrine, which does not teach “male leadership”, unlike some evangelical churches. Personal advisers can be too controlling, critics say; they can betray confidences, and too often they supplant the role of the priest.

Mr Lent said the group’s leader and servant system promotes “brotherhood”, not male dominance. He said the group had recently dropped the term “servant” in favor of “female leader”.

“We follow the New Testament pattern of asking men to take spiritual responsibility for their families,” he said.

Adrian J. Reimers, a Notre Dame philosophy professor, was a founding member of the People of Praise, but was kicked out 13 years later after saying he was increasingly questioning authority leaders on the lives of members and the deviation from the Catholic Church. doctrine. He later wrote a critical manuscript, “Not Reliable Guides”.

Mr Reimers said in an interview that the breaking point came after he objected to instructions a servant had given his wife. When he took his concerns to his head, he said he had been told his wife was “trying to undermine God’s plan for her life” and that the couple should take the advice of the handmaiden.

There are indications that Ms Barrett and People of Praise may have tried to conceal Ms Barrett’s membership in the group.

Links to issues of the group’s magazine, Vine & Branches, which mentioned her have disappeared from her website, some very recently. One included an announcement that Ms Barrett and her husband had adopted a child; another had a picture of Ms Barrett attending a women’s rally.

A People of Praise spokesman, Sean Connolly, said the group was sometimes asked by members to remove links to articles about them, but he wouldn’t say if that happened in this case. . Mr Lent said he was unaware of any such request regarding Ms Barrett.

Each candidate for the federal bench is required to complete a detailed questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ms Barrett did not list any religious affiliation in her questionnaire, although many applicants have done so in the past.

Administration officials said Thursday that the White House has informed all of its judicial nominees that they do not need to list religious affiliations on their Senate questionnaires.

Ms Barrett, however, said she was a trustee of Trinity School from 2015 to 2017, without giving further details. Many schools go by this name, but this one was founded and run by People of Praise, and administrators must be members. Mr Lent confirmed that Ms Barrett was indeed a director of Trinity until very recently.

The Senate questionnaire also asks candidates to list their public speeches and provide the committee with recordings or scripts. Ms Barrett listed a Trinity School commencement speech she gave on June 11, 2011, but according to a committee aide she did not submit a copy of that speech.

“I’m afraid it hasn’t been transparent enough,” said Cathleen Kaveny, a professor at Boston College Law School who studies the relationship between law, religion and morality. “We need to disclose everything from the Elks Club to the alumni associations we belong to – why didn’t she disclose that?”