Senators Criticize ‘Anti-Catholic Smears’ Over Barrett’s Faith

September 23, 2020 Updated: September 24, 2020

News stories that have been critical of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a potential Supreme Court nominee, for her religious beliefs have been replete with smears against the Catholic faith, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) says.

Barrett, 48, a devout Catholic, serves as a circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. She is one of the women who President Donald Trump is considering nominating to the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Newsweek and Reuters this week published articles that attempted to link an ecumenical Catholic group that Barrett is reportedly a member of, People of Praise, to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian story about a religious movement that takes over the government and forces women into subjugation.

Sasse said the articles contain outrageous smears against the judge for merely taking part in a Catholic Bible study and linked the attempt to critique her for her faith with the crusade of former Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) against communists.

“These ugly smears against Judge Barrett are a combination of anti-Catholic bigotry and QAnon-level stupidity,” Sasse said.

“People of Praise is basically a Bible study—and just like billions of Christians around the world, Judge Barrett reads the Bible, prays, and tries to serve her community. Senators should condemn this wacky McCarthyism.”

ben sasse
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) listens as Christine Blasey Ford testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington on Sep. 27, 2018. (Tom Williams/AFP via Getty Images)

Newsweek erroneously reported that Margaret Atwood, the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based the religious movement in her book on People of Praise.

The article was later updated to note there was no evidence that that was the case.

Newsweek issued a correction, stating: “This article’s headline originally stated that People of Praise inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. The book’s author, Margaret Atwood, has never specifically mentioned the group as being the inspiration for her work. A New Yorker profile of the author from 2017 mentions a newspaper clipping as part of her research for the book of a different charismatic Catholic group, People of Hope. Newsweek regrets the error.”

Newsweek didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

Reuters also included “Handmaid’s Tale” in its original headline and claimed: “Some have likened People of Praise, a self-described charismatic Christian community, to the totalitarian, male-dominated society of Margaret Atwood’s novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.'”

The article was later edited heavily and the reference to the novel was removed from the headline, as was the referenced statement.

An editor’s note says a paragraph was corrected “to show [the] group’s website says it has liberal and conservative members, does not describe itself as ultraconservative.”

Epoch Times Photo
The Thomson Reuters building in New York City in a 2011 file photograph. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Asked why so much was changed post-publication with little notice about what changed, a Reuters spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email: “As we continued to report this story and received comment from a spokesperson from People of Praise, we updated our story to reflect additional information.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined in on the pushback to the targeting of Coney Barrett’s faith.

“I’m Catholic, OK. And religion should not enter into it. It sure doesn’t with me,” Manchin, who opposes filling the vacant Supreme Court seat before the election, said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends” on Sept. 23.

“It’s awful to bring in religion. It truly is,” he added.

People of Praise spokesman Sean Connolly told The Epoch Times in an email: “In suggesting a link between People of Praise and Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ the burden of proof clearly lies with the news outlet making such a claim.

“Bottom line: There has never been any evidence whatsoever to suggest that the People of Praise played a role in inspiring Margaret Atwood’s book,” he said, adding later that “there are no similarities whatsoever between a faith community that recognizes that men and women share a fundamental equality as bearers of God’s image and a fictional dystopia in which women are treated like property.”

People of Praise describes itself as “a charismatic Christian community” that has about 1,700 members in 22 cities across the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. It was founded in 1971 in South Bend, Indiana.

“Jesus desires unity for all people. We live out this unity the best we can, in spite of the divisions within Christianity. We are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, and other denominational and nondenominational Christians,” the group’s site states.

“Despite our differences, we are bound together by our Christian baptism. Despite our differences, we worship together. While remaining faithful members of our own churches, we have found a way to live our daily lives together.”

Some former members have been critical of the group. Coral Anika Theill, who left the group in 1984, claimed in a blog post that she “lived the Handmaid’s Tale” before leaving the group.

“I was required to be a ‘helpmeet’ in a world like the one from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,'” she wrote, adding that her husband at the time “used coercive control, isolation and intimidation tactics to strip me of my personhood, safety, and freedoms as a United States citizen.”

Reuters cited Theill’s tale. In the updated version, it clarified that it couldn’t independently verify her account.

A People of Praise spokesman told the outlet when asked about the account that the group follows Christian teachings that “men and women share a fundamental equality as bearers of God’s image.”

“We value independent thinking,” he said.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber