Former People of Praise Member Calls on Senators to Allow Her to Testify at Amy Coney Barrett's Confirmation Hearing

A former member of the People of Praise has called on U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to allow her to testify about her time in the charismatic Christian community during Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Confirmation hearings for Barrett, President Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, begin Monday. Ginsburg, a liberal feminist icon, died aged 87 last month and if confirmed, Barrett would shift the balance of the court in favor of conservatives significantly.

Barrett's reported affiliation with People of Praise has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. Former members have described to Newsweek how women in the group are expected to submit to the will of their husbands and how its leaders dictate almost every aspect of members' lives.

Barrett, a devout Catholic, has never publicly commented on the matter and the group does not publicly list its members. A People of Praise spokesman also previously declined to confirm whether she and her husband are members.

The New York Times reported this week that Barrett "spent her formative years" embedded in the "intense faith community" in Louisiana. Her husband, Jesse Barrett, was raised in the People of Praise community in South Bend, Indiana, where the group was founded in 1971, and she settled there to raise their family, according to the newspaper.

Amy Barrett
Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's nominee for the US Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on October, 1. Greg Nash/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

A photocopy of an undated membership directory obtained by The Times includes the Barretts and five of their seven children. Amy Coney Barrett is also listed in the directory as a "handmaid" (advisors who are now known as "women leaders") for one of the group's divisions in South Bend.

And according to the Associated Press, Barrett served as a trustee at the People of Praise-affiliated Trinity Schools Inc as recently as 2017. Only members of the group serve on the schools' board.

In a letter addressed to U.S. Senators this week, Coral Anika Theill, urged them to allow her to testify at Barrett's confirmation hearings about "the oppression, abuse and crimes that I and other women were victims of in the People of Praise sect."

She wrote: "I would very much like to testify to the Senate in person as I believe the public should hear first-hand about Amy Coney Barrett's support of patriarchal ideology and resulting oppression of women. This should be a disqualifier for the highest court in the land."

Theill said that "although men have ultimate authority in the sect, women leaders, like [Barrett], are complicit in the subordination and mistreatment of lower status women like me."

In the letter, Theill said she joined a group in Corvallis, Oregon that was "formally absorbed" into the People of Praise community in 1982.

"The entire time I was there, I was under the control of men and subjected to psychological abuse, including undue influence, threats, shaming, and shunning by leaders and my husband," she wrote.

"Coercive persuasion was used on my children to turn them against me. My husband and community leaders used coercive control, isolation and intimidation to strip me of my personhood, safety and freedoms guaranteed to me as a United States citizen. They also launched a smear campaign when I finally got the courage to leave."

Sean Connelly, communications director for People of Praise, previously told Newsweek that "neither the men nor women leaders in the People of Praise Corvallis branch are aware that there were ever any allegations of physical or mental abuse concerning Ms. Theill and her husband at the time.

"Her charges of the mistreatment of women, insularity, lack of privacy and shunning are contradictory to our beliefs and our practices as a community."

In her letter, Theill referenced Barrett's remarks that she and her husband run their household "as partners" during her White House nomination ceremony.

Theill wrote that the remarks were to deflect "from accusations of the gender discrimination in her sect."

Theill added: "First of all, she is a leader in the community, so she has a much better life than most women who are expected to stay home, keep having babies, even when it is unhealthy or dangerous, and take care of children themselves, as I was forced to do.

"But the more important point is that there is not equality or autonomy for women in the sect, instead a serious imbalance of power between men and women."

She added that "it should be concerning to members of Congress that [Barett] did not disclose her membership in the sect to the Senate, while information about her involvement and leadership in the People of Praise Community has been scrubbed from the internet."

The AP reported last month that it had reviewed 15 years of back issues of People of Praise's internal magazine, Vine and Branches, which had published birth announcements, photos and other mentors of Barrett and her family. All editions of the magazines have since been removed from the group's website.

Cindy Dumas, the executive director of The Women's Coalition, has launched a petition calling on Senate Judiciary Democrats to allow Theill and other former members of People of Praise to testify.

"If we mean to fix persisting sexism in our State and Federal courts, and we should, we cannot allow anyone who supports patriarchal control of women to be on the highest court in the land," Dumas wrote.

"In the name of gender equality, we take the stand that such serious allegations of complicity in the oppression and subjugation of women against Barrett must not go unaddressed or uninvestigated. We need the truth of Amy Coney Barrett's involvement in her sexist sect to be debated in the public arena, in full view of voters. For that we need testimony of Coral Anika Theill."

Newsweek has contacted People of Praise, the White House and the Senate Judiciary Committee for comment.