Supreme Court Nominations

Barrett spoke at program to inspire Christian worldview in law; critics fear influence of 'dogma'

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Amy Coney Barrett headshot

Judge Amy Coney Barrett in 2018. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Critics suggest that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s religious views will influence her opinions on abortion and LGBTQ rights. They point to her frequent participation in an event for law students and in a charismatic Christian group called People of Praise as evidence.

But Barrett has said her religious views are separate from her duties as a judge, according to an Associated Press article on her notable quotes.

“If you’re asking whether I take my faith seriously and I’m a faithful Catholic—I am, although I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge,” she said during the 2017 hearing in which she won confirmation to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Chicago.

Supporters say a focus on Catholicism amounts to bigotry and should have no part of the confirmation process.

“If Senate Democrats in Barrett’s confirmation hearings, or in talking to the press, again focus on the nominee’s religion, the scurrilous tactic will almost certainly be met with disgust by voters,” according to an op-ed published in the Washington Post.

When President Donald Trump nominated Barrett to the Supreme Court on Saturday, Barrett said she shares the judicial philosophy of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she was a law clerk.

“A judge must apply the law as written,” she said. “Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they may hold.”

Some have questioned, however, whether religion will influence Barrett’s judging. When she was nominated to the 7th Circuit, Barrett’s role in a training program for law students drew scrutiny and may be an issue in her new confirmation battle, according to the Washington Post.

Beginning in 2011, Barrett spoke five times at the at the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, an event sponsored by the conservative Christian legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, the Washington Post reports. The summer program for law students was established to inspire a “distinctly Christian worldview in every area of law.”

Alliance Defending Freedom represented the Christian baker who cited religious reasons for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. The group got a narrow win before the Supreme Court in the case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

In 2011, the Blackstone website said the law student seminars were intended to further efforts to create “an America whose laws affirm religious liberty, protect life from conception to natural death, defend the family, and preserve marriage as being between one man and one woman.”

Barrett said during her 2017 confirmation hearing she wasn’t aware of all the ADF’s policy positions. She agreed to speak at the programs because of participation by some of her colleagues and students at the University of Notre Dame Law School, where she was a professor and a member of the anti-abortion group Faculty for Life.

“I don’t feel like affiliation with a group commits me to all of that group’s policy positions,” she said.

Barrett submitted materials from her speaking engagements at the Blackstone Legal Fellowship for the 2017 hearing, and they focused on originalism.

Barrett has also participated in the Christian group People of Praise, according to Politico and a September 2017 article by the New York Times. The group grew out of the Catholic charismatic renewal movement and adopted Pentecostal practices, such as speaking in tongues, belief in prophecy and divine healing.

The New York Times has reported that Barrett and her husband were members of the group. Politico said Barrett is “connected” to the group. Barrett has never confirmed she is a member; although she hasn’t denied reports of her membership.

The group isn’t controlled by the Catholic church, according to Politico. The group is among several groups that sprung up in the 1960s and 1970s to “offer intense, highly supportive religious communities, in the style of Evangelical churches, within the Catholic tradition,” the article said.

According to the 2017 New York Times article, People of Praise teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family. Group members are assigned to a personal adviser, called a “head” for men and a “handmaid” for women. The advisers give advice on personal decisions such as whom to marry, whether to take a job and how to raise children, according to current and former members who spoke to the New York Times.

Some group members choose to make a commitment called a covenant, which is “a promise of love and service we choose to make to one another,” according to an email to Politico by Sean Connolly, the group’s communications director. “Our covenant is a commitment to be there for one another for the long run, to support one another through thick and thin, through all of life’s seasons.”

People of Praise has wide influence in South Bend, Indiana, where Barrett lives, according to Politico. Several prominent families are group members. The group also runs the Trinity School at Greenlawn, a private school that costs $13,000 per year for a student in grades six to eight and $14,000 per student in high school. Barrett was a school board member between 2015 and 2017. Her five oldest children attended the school, which is a separate 501(c)(3) corporation from People of Praise.

The school’s cultural statement discourages sex before marriage and cautions students attracted to a member of the same sex against “prematurely interpret[ing] any particular emotional experience as identity-defining.” The statement said the school understands marriage to be between a man and a woman. The school rejects any bullying for any reason, however, including bullying based on perceived sexuality.

Students don’t have to be members of People of Praise, and the school is popular with Notre Dame faculty members. The school focuses on reading original texts, according to Politico. The ninth grade reading list includes the Federalist Papers, while older students must read John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government.

Critics who fear that Barrett will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade point to a 2013 Texas Law Review article she wrote on precedent. In the article, Barrett agreed with the idea that it is a justice’s duty to enforce the Constitution rather than precedent that conflicts with the document.

Barrett’s own writings supply information on her views. She co-signed an October 2015 letter to Catholic bishops expressing fidelity to the doctrines of the Catholic church. The letter said Catholic teachings promote the flourishing of women, including teachings on “the value of human life from conception to natural death; on the meaning of human sexuality, the significance of sexual difference and the complementarity of men and women; on openness to life and the gift of motherhood; and on marriage and family founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.”

Barrett wrote in a 1998 law review article, “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases,” that the church teaches that abortion is “always immoral.” The article, which Barrett co-wrote with a Notre Dame law professor when she was a law student, considered whether Catholic judges should recuse themselves in capital cases because of the church’s position on the death penalty.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., mentioned the article when questioning Barrett about Roe v. Wade during her 2017 confirmation hearing.

“The conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein had said.

Feinstein’s words led to a backlash. The phrase was later printed on T-shirts and coffee mugs, as some Catholics saw it as a badge of faith.

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