She’s a member of People of Praise, a charismatic covenant community in South Bend, Indiana, that has been criticized by former members for being a religious cult. Though most of its members are Catholic, its practices, including speaking in tongues and faith healing, draw more from fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity than the Vatican. One of its most notable features is the submissive role played by women, some of whom were called “handmaids”—at least until the Handmaid’s Tale aired in 2017, At that point, the group started referring to them as “women leaders.”
In 2006, she gave a commencement speech at Notre Dame law school in which she told the grads, “Always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end, and…that end is building the kingdom of God.” But Barrett has not publicly addressed her involvement with People of Praise.
According to accounts of former members, People of Praise involves much more than studying the Bible. Indeed, some are deeply troubled by the possibility of one of the group winning a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Two years ago, when Barrett’s name was floated as a potential candidate to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, a post appeared in a Facebook group of ex-members of charismatic Christian communities. “I don’t want a current member of this cult to be sitting on the Supreme Court,” the onetime People of Praise member wrote. “And it was not very many years ago that I admired them very much and was almost seduced into thinking they had something spiritually real and rich going for them.” More recently, another ex-member wrote, “I think we better start now fighting her nomination. I can’t quite imagine People of Praise on the Supreme Court.”