The People of Praise—the Christian network that became nationally known due to its affiliation with Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett—regularly drove women congregants to tears, according to a new video published Friday by the Guardian.
The video features the founder’s wife, Dorothy Ranaghan, speaking about the origins of People of Praise during a private event celebrating the group’s 50th anniversary. And the earliest teachings, which apparently had women wearing shades to cover their swollen, cried-out eyes, seem pretty hard to swallow. “Suddenly we were having teachings on headship and the roles of men and women and all sorts of things we hadn’t counted on at all,” Ranaghan says in the video, referencing the group’s belief that men are divinely the heads of household. “Some of the women—who are still in my women’s group, as a matter of fact—were wearing sunglasses all the time, because they were always crying and would have to hold on to their chairs every time somebody started teaching, because ‘What are we going to hear this time?’ But it all worked out just fine.”
And I guess, unfortunately, it has. After all, this was the group’s golden anniversary. However, as the Guardian notes, this is the first time someone from People of Praise acknowledged that women had a negative reaction to its teachings about male superiority and women’s divine subjugation.
People of Praise is not a church—that’s why Barrett can maintain that she’s a practicing Catholic. It’s easier to think of it as a group of Christian zealots who are pledging fidelity to members of the group on top of their regular church practice and attendance. The Washington Post reported that the group claims to be as many as 1,700 members strong across multiple countries.
Barrett was listed as a “handmaid” in a People of Praise directory in 2010. This is considered a leadership position as Mary is the “handmaid of the Lord,” according to the gospel. Barrett’s family was also heavily involved in People of Praise. Her mother was a “handmaid” in New Orleans. Her father was a principal coordinator in New Orleans and was a member of the national chapter’s board of governors (all men, naturally). The title of “handmaid” was modernized in 2017 to “women leaders” after the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale became wildly popular. Let’s also remember this group has also been accused of sexual abuse dating back to the 1970s.
Now, you may be thinking: Can you really directly tie the Supreme Court justice who served as a trustee of a school that requires members to belong to People of Praise to this woman in the video? Yes. Yes, you can. Barrett ended up living with Ranaghan and her co-founder/husband Kevin while attending law school in South Bend, Indiana. “Let’s just say it was one of the better experiences of our life,” Ranaghan told the Guardian when it reported on the pair’s link in 2020. (Barrett’s husband Jesse Barrett also lived with the older couple. Cute?) “She is just a gem,” Ranaghan said. “But I don’t feel comfortable talking right now.”
During her Senate confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, Barrett was not asked about her affiliation with People of Praise. In fact, she even told Sen. Dianne Feinstein that a judge’s beliefs shouldn’t influence the law. “It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they arise from faith or anywhere else, on the law,” she said with a straight face. Barrett has never publicly acknowledged her ties with People of Praise.
Ranaghan, despite belonging to a faith group that prefers men’s intellectual contributions to women’s, has written extensively about women’s place in faith. In a 1978 article for New Covenant magazine, also included in the Guardian article, the co-founder tried to make the case for women’s subservience through pregnancy. I won’t lie: It’s bleak to read.
“The child in the womb expands the mother’s body, changing its dimensions. As her body yields, so do the borders of privacy and selfishness. Her very existence gives to another. If we look around us at the women we most admire, we will often see that they give and give and give of themselves, that they seem to have boundless time, energy, and service to give. They are not private persons, but are surrendered and available to care for others.”
“Pregnancy teaches a woman that others have a claim on her very person for the service of life. Rather than annihilating her, pregnancy makes her a new person, radiant and strong: a mother.
Barrett’s comments on the importance of continuing a pregnancy make total sense after reading Ranaghan’s writing. During the Supreme Court arguments against upholding the protections of Roe v. Wade, Barrett twice asked about safe haven laws—which allow some state residents to leave a child at a specific location with no consequences. In fact, her belief in safe haven laws being substitutes for abortion seems almost too on the nose after reading the sentence, “Pregnancy teaches a woman that others have a claim on her very person.”
Each new revelation about People of Praise makes it clear the highest court is employing someone whose core beliefs will never include the right to full bodily autonomy.