Amy Coney Barrett, who is all but assured of being confirmed to the Supreme Court next week absent a number of Republican senators being brought low by covid-19, has largely declined to discuss her membership in People of Praise, the somewhat secretive charismatic Catholic faith group she belonged to well into her adult years and likely still is a member of today. That People of Praise and more broadly her religious faith weren’t topics of discussion during her confirmation hearings was a calculated tactic embraced by Democratic senators to focus attention instead on her alarming views on health care, reproductive rights, and voting rights in an effort to remind voters of the high stakes of the election.
But that doesn’t mean that People of Praise and Barrett’s involvement in the religious group isn’t worthy of scrutiny. Anyone who says that a judge’s personal views don’t impact how they interpret and wield the law—like Amy Coney Barrett herself has said—is, quite frankly, full of shit. During her hearings, Barrett notably refused to comment when asked about her views on key Supreme Court decisions like Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Texas. And a deeply reported story by the Associated Press on Barrett’s association with a network of notably anti-LGBT People of Praise-affiliated private schools, ones which the AP noted “effectively barred admission to children of same-sex parents and made it plain that openly gay and lesbian teachers weren’t welcome in the classroom,” should read as a big freaking warning sign to people who care about future Supreme Court cases on LGBT rights.
As the AP reported, Barrett served on the board of the People of Praise-affiliated Trinity Schools beginning in 2015, and at least three of her seven children attended its branch in South Bend, Indiana. And the school network’s anti-LGBT ideology was enshrined in its official policies. Via the AP:
The AP spoke with more than two dozen people who attended or worked at Trinity Schools, or former members of People of Praise. They said the community’s teachings have been consistent for decades: Homosexuality is an abomination against God, sex should occur only within marriage and marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Interviewees told the AP that Trinity’s leadership communicated anti-LGBTQ policies and positions in meetings, one-on-one conversations, enrollment agreements, employment agreements, handbooks and written policies — including those in place when Barrett was an active member of the board.
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The AP interviewed Tom Henry, a former student at the Trinity School in Minnesota, who shared that in 2017, a time when Barrett was still serving on the board, he was told by the school’s headmaster that an anti-gay marriage policy was being added into the handbook:
In early 2017, a lesbian parent asked him whether Trinity was open to gay people and expressed concern about how her child would be treated.
Henry, who is gay, said he didn’t know what to say. He had been instructed not to answer questions about People of Praise or Trinity’s “politics.”
The next day, Henry recalled, he asked the school’s then-headmaster, Jon Balsbaugh, how he should have answered. Henry said Balsbaugh pulled a document out of his desk drawer that condemned gay marriage, and explained it was a new policy from People of Praise that was going into the handbook.
“He looked me right in the eye and said, the next time that happens, you tell them they would not be welcome here,” Henry recounted. “And he said to me that trans families, gay families, gay students, trans students would not feel welcome at Trinity Schools. And then he said, ‘Do we understand each other?’ And I said, yes. And I left. And then I quit the student ambassadors that day.”
In an email to the AP, Balsbaugh, naturally, “denied that the school’s leadership considered or formulated any new policy related to homosexuality during that time,” and also told the AP that Barrett “was not involved in the formulation or passage of any policies pertaining to homosexuality.”
But according to many people with firsthand knowledge of and experience with the Trinity Schools, the school’s anti-LBGT, anti-gay marriage policies were widely known and already enshrined by the time Barrett arrived onto the board. These policies included enrollment agreements for students that defined marriage as “a legal and committed relationship between one man and one woman” and listed “fornication, pornography, adultery and homosexual acts, and advocating or modeling any of these behaviors” as acts against the school’s “core beliefs,” a 2014 decision to only limit enrollment to the “children of legally married couples or single parents,” and teaching agreements that bluntly stated that “blatant sexual immorality (for example, fornication, adultery, homosexual acts, etc.) has no place in the culture of Trinity Schools.”
Despite claiming during her hearings that she “would not ever discriminate on the basis of sexual preference”—using a highly suspect and ultimately telling term—the fact that Barrett would affiliate herself with schools that hold these views is a pretty alarming sign of her beliefs on the rights that LGBTQ+ Americans should have, and on whether religious institutions should have the ability to discriminate against people they view as second-class citizens. As Andrea Turpin-King, a former Trinity School student in South Bend who recalled being told by teachers that “all gay people go to hell,” said to the AP, she is alarmed by the prospect of Barrett on the Supreme Court. “I am deeply concerned about my queer friends. I’m concerned about my own children,” she said. “From what I experienced in People of Praise, as a student of one of their schools, everyone needs to be petrified, frankly.”
You can read the full AP report here.