People of Praise, an Indiana-based religious group in which Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett once served in a leadership capacity, is in hot water over freshly unearthed allegations of child sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct, per court documents from the 1990s obtained by The Guardian. The allegations come as the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade with Barrett’s support, opening the door for the state-sanctioned abuse and gender-based violence that is forced pregnancy and birth.
The court documents shared on Monday come after the outlet first reported two years ago that People of Praise had hired a law firm to conduct an “independent” investigation into numerous sexual abuse claims made by minors in the religious group. The investigation has since concluded, but curiously enough, its findings won’t be released to the public or to the religious group’s alleged victims.
Cynthia Carnick, a woman who was suing to deny visitation rights to the father of her children citing his membership with the People of Praise, filed the court documents in question in 1993. The allegations made in the documents primarily name Dorothy and Kevin Ranaghan, the founder of the religious group, which is a covenanted community that requires members to live together and share their incomes.
Per the allegations, Dorothy Ranaghan would allegedly “tie the arms and legs of two of the Ranaghans’ daughters—who were three and five at the time the incidents were allegedly witnessed—to their crib with a necktie,” The Guardian reports. Carnick further alleged that the Ranaghans practiced “sexual displays” in front of their children and adults in the household, including Dorothy lying on top of Kevin and “rocking” in front of their kids.
One affidavit supporting Carnick’s written statements came from a woman who had lived in the Ranaghan household, and said she had been “shocked” to learn Kevin showered with two of his young daughters. She recalled later being told by Dorothy that Kevin had “decided to quit showering with them,” shortly after the woman had questioned Dorothy about this.
Another affidavit by a woman who had lived with Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan in the 1970s confirms that she also witnessed inappropriate sexual behavior from the Ranaghans, and details the extreme control Kevin had over her life:
“When I was part of the People of Praise I was in full life submission to Kevin Ranaghan, under full obedience to him and he exercised this authority over most areas of my life. For example, we were ‘in common’ financially, which meant that I had to hand over my paycheck to Kevin Ranaghan and he would decide on how that paycheck would be used. Kevin Ranaghan controlled my dating relationships, deciding who and when I should date.”
Just last year, four people claiming to be victims of sexual and physical abuse while members of the People of Praise published a letter in the South Bend Tribune calling for the group to make sweeping reforms. Specifically, the letter demands that the group publicly acknowledge “systemic failure to protect People of Praise children from abuse,” publicly name individuals in the group who have been “credibly accused of abuse,” and change its leadership policies so that it has “an equal number of women in the highest leadership positions in the group.” The group notably allows only men to serve on its board of governors.
According to public records, Barrett lived in the Ranaghans’ household during her time in law school in the 1990s, and her husband Jesse Barrett, also a member of People of Praise, lived there as well. On top of this, Justice Barrett served in a leadership capacity as a “handmaid,” or female adviser to the group’s other female members. And from 2015 to 2017, Barrett served on the Trinity Schools board, which requires its members to belong to the People of Praise, and proudly bars the admission of children of same-sex parents as well as openly LGBTQ teachers.
Justice Barrett’s affiliations to a group accused of sexual misconduct should surprise no one: In 2018, while serving as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, she overturned a jury award to a teenager who was allegedly raped in jail by a guard. This cruelty toward survivors is ultimately inseparable from her goal of imposing pregnancy and childbirth on pregnant people without their consent.
Today, as we await the Supreme Court’s inevitably terrible decision on abortion rights, Barrett’s ties to a religious group rooted in total patriarchal dominance and overrun with sexual abuse allegations are inseparable from her crusade on reproductive rights. Despite her laughable claims throughout her confirmation hearings that her ties to People of Praise would not stop her from being impartial on issues of abortion and LGBTQ rights, we all knew what her confirmation to the court would mean for pregnant people, people of color, and LGBTQ folks. In 2006, she signed onto a newspaper ad calling Roe “barbaric.” Between 2010 and 2016, she was a member of Notre Dame’s University Faculty for Life.
Nonetheless, we were told to celebrate Barrett’s confirmation as a feminist victory. Her supporters reminded us at every turn that she was a mother of seven who had still managed to excel in her career—the implicit message of this narrative was that if she could do it, then all of the selfish pregnant people who have had abortions for their economic well-being could have done it, too. Barrett’s children, two of whom are Black and one who has a disability, have long been weaponized by her supporters to deny accusations about Barrett’s racist politics, and in the future, will likely be used to justify her support for discriminatory race, sex, and disability-selective abortion bans that will eventually reach the Supreme Court.
Ultimately, the hypocrisy of Barrett once helping to lead a group that is alleged to have enabled rampant child sexual abuse, all while claiming to be “pro-life,” is jarring—but at this point, it’s not even vaguely surprising.