Details of link to Kevin Ranaghan raise fresh questions about supreme court nominee’s involvement with People of Praise
Amy Coney Barrett lived in the home of one of the founders of the People of Praise while she was a law student, raising new questions about the supreme court nominee’s involvement with the secretive Christian faith group that has been criticized for dominating the lives of its members and subjugating women.
Public records examined by the Guardian show that Barrett, a conservative 48-year-old appeals court judge who has been put up to fill the vacant seat left by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, lived in a nine-bedroom South Bend, Indiana, residence owned at the time by Kevin Ranaghan, a religious scholar and a co-founder of Barrett’s faith group, during law school.
The revelation offers new clues about the possible influence of the People of Praise, and one of its leaders, on a woman who may shape the direction of the supreme court for the next 40 to 50 years. Barrett has said she is a “faithful Catholic” but that her religious beliefs would not “bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge”.
Public records – and a record of a speeding ticket – show that Barrett’s husband, Jesse, apparently also lived in the home in the years before their 1999 marriage. The public records examined by the Guardian show where individuals receive their mail, including bills. It is difficult, based on the records alone, to determine when precisely individuals lived in the residence. The database shows no other residence for Amy Barrett at that time.
Amy Barrett, who as Amy Coney graduated from Notre Dame Law in 1997 at the top of her class, has said she met Jesse while she was in law school but has not offered other details. Records show that other individuals who appear to be members of the People of Praise have also gotten married following periods of living in the Ranaghan household.
Insider accounts by former members who are now critical of the organization suggest that the group has “well-developed courtship and marriage traditions” which are closely followed. One critic, former member Adrian Reimers, has said in writings about his experience that people who are in the community do not usually date until the matter has been prayed upon by an individual’s “head” – or spiritual leader – who helps make decisions about whether a couple ought to get married.
Reached by phone by the Guardian, Dorothy Ranaghan, who is married to Kevin Ranaghan, confirmed that Amy Barrett had previously lived in their home. Asked to describe the experience, she said: “Let’s just say it was one of the better experiences of our life. She is just a gem. But I don’t feel comfortable talking right now.”
Asked whether she could confirm that she and her husband took in students for many years she said: “I just prefer not to talk about it, but yes, many years.”
She then directed the Guardian to call Sean Connolly, a spokesman for People of Praise. Connolly said it would be “inappropriate” to comment. The White House declined to comment.
There are only a few details about Barrett’s history with the People of Praise. While Barrett has identified herself as a Catholic, and belongs to a conservative parish in Indiana, People of Praise is an ecumenical group that – some literature shows – sees itself as distinct from other Christian groups in that its members have entered a covenant – or a vow – to support each other “financially and materially and spiritually”.
People of Praise has, according to reporting by the Associated Press, “erased numerous records from its website during the summer of 2017 when she was nominated as an appeals court judge that referred to Barrett and included photos of her and her family.”
While Barrett has never spoken publicly about her membership in the group since becoming a public figure in 2017, her picture appeared in an internal magazine in 2006 that is still available, and she has served as a trustee at a school affiliated with the faith group that is opposed to gay marriage and espouses other conservative values. Her family are also known members, with her father playing a leadership role in her native Louisiana.
The group has been criticized by some former members for adhering to a strict authoritarian structure, including the expectation that women are subordinate to their husbands, who are considered their “heads”. The notion marks a contrast to what is known about Barrett’s own life. While she is the mother of seven – including two children the Barretts adopted from Haiti – Barrett has publicly praised her husband for taking a lead in the household. When she accepted Donald Trump’s nomination, Barrett thanked her husband and commented that her children believed he was the better cook of the two.
Among other practices, like speaking in tongues, members of the People of Praise are expected to donate 5% of their earnings to the group and can be required to house other members. Previous magazines that are still available show that the group staunchly supports “traditional marriage” and is opposed to same-sex marriage.
In a special Vine & Branch internal magazine devoted to marriage in 2014, it states that: “Governments do have good reason to support and encourage this kind of [heterosexual] marriage because they have a vested interest in producing future generations of well-informed citizens. Supporting traditional marriage is a time-honored way for societies to ensure that children are well cared for.”
The Guardian could not reach Kevin Ranaghan at his home.
In a book that describes the early founding of the People of Praise, Reimers, the former member turned critic said that Ranaghan “likened the covenant of the People of Praise to the marriage vow”, suggesting a similar obligation.
Reimer wrote: “The covenant of the People of Praise is – according to Ranaghan – an objectively binding obligation in conscience, one that cannot be abandoned without the agreement of the other parties involved. If so many people should decide at one time to leave, then the most logical explanation is that evil spirits have inspired them to do so.”
He added that members of People of Praise believe the covenant relationship to be “more important than any relationship with any other person”. Reimer also described in his writing what he believed to be an important aspect of People of Praise life: strict adherence to “obedience” as a way to root out sin and “grow in holiness”.
Current members have anonymously defended the group in other press reports, telling the AP that it has been misunderstood and that it is simply a Christian fellowship focused on building community. One member described it to the AP as a “family of families” who commit themselves to each other in mutual support to live together “through thick and thin”.
Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee have emphatically stated that Barrett’s faith was not an issue that would be raised in upcoming confirmation hearings. Pressed on the issue recently by the Guardian, the Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, a member of the committee, said he had “no intention” of questioning Barrett about her “religious faith or religious affiliation”.
“I think the arguments against her are so powerful and persuasive on the merits, that we should focus on them,” he said.