U.S. Supreme Court

Ex-leader of religious group who prayed with 3 SCOTUS justices on court grounds wanted them to know of ‘divine support’

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Robert Schenck stands in front of a cluster of microphones at the Supreme Court Building in 2005

In this 2005 file photo, Robert Schenck speaks outside of the U.S. Supreme Court building after arguments were heard over two cases involving 10 Commandments displays in public courthouses. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Rob Schenck, the former leader of a religious group called Faith and Action, says he prayed with three conservative Supreme Court justices at the court and recruited wealthy volunteers to entertain them, according to reports by Rolling Stone and Politico.

Schenck told Rolling Stone he hosted prayer sessions in chambers and on Supreme Court grounds with Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia from the late 1990s through the mid-2010s when he left the group. Scalia died in February 2016 at the age of 79.

“The intention all along was to embolden the conservative justices by loaning them a kind of spiritual moral support—to give them an assurance that not only was there a large number of people behind them, but in fact, there was divine support for very strong and unapologetic opinions from them,” Schenck told Rolling Stone.

Schenck’s comments follow a statement caught on a hot mic by Peggy Nienaber, who heads Faith and Action under its new name, Faith & Liberty. Nienaber said she prays with some sitting justices inside the Supreme Court.

Schenck told Politico he had recruited wealthy volunteers to, in Politico’s words, “wine, dine and entertain conservative Supreme Court justices while pushing conservative positions on abortion, homosexuality, gun restrictions and other issues.”

About 20 couples were recruited. The justices they entertained were Thomas, Alito and Scalia, Schenk said.

Schenk said he coached volunteers not to mention specific Supreme Court cases. Instead of commenting on a gay-rights case, for example, the volunteers were told to “talk about the importance of a child having a father and a mother,” Schenk said.

“We would rehearse lines like, ‘We believe you are here for a time like this,’ ” Schenck told Politico.

Schenck was an anti-abortion activist who cut ties with the religious right over its aggressive tactics and support for gun control, Politico says. His group became part of Liberty Counsel in 2018.

According to Rolling Stone, Schenck regrets his past work. “Prayer is a positive exercise, until it’s politicized—and too many prayers that I and my colleagues offered in the presence of the justices were political prayers,” he told Rolling Stone.

Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, told Politico he didn’t know anything about Schenk’s group wining and dining justices. Staver said he once heard Schenck coach couples on how to behave around the justices, but it was in connection with a banquet involving the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Staver told Rolling Stone there were no in-person prayers with the justices. Nienaber has prayer meetings for the justices, but not with the justices, Staver said.

Rolling Stone points out that Liberty Counsel had filed an amicus brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the right to abortion. The group also represented a Boston resident and his Christian civic organization after the city turned down their request to display a religious flag while allowing other groups to fly their flags. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 for Liberty Counsel’s clients.

Thomas and Alito did not respond to Politico’s requests for comment. The publication was not able to contact Scalia’s family for comment. Rolling Stone sought comment from the Supreme Court, which did not respond.

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