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Senate Republicans torch Washington Post over 'religious smear', 'disgraceful attacks' on Amy Coney Barrett

'The press tries to imply that one of the most brilliant and powerful women in the legal world is anti-woman'

Anna Moneymaker - Pool/Getty Images

High-profile Senate Republicans Ted Cruz (Texas) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) blasted the Washington Post on Wednesday for publishing a "religious smear" against Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

The Post investigative article, titled "Amy Coney Barrett served as a 'handmaid' in Christian group People of Praise," examined Barrett's involvement with People of Praise, "a small Christian group founded in the 1970s based in South Bend, Ind." One of the contributing authors of the article is Emma Brown, who The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway noted was the same reporter who first published the sexual harassment allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

In a tweet, Cruz shared a screenshot of the article and wrote "WaPo levels religious smear at Judge Barrett," adding "Next, the Dems propose a test: if she floats . . . she's a witch!"

The Post's article reviewed Barrett's connections to People of Praise and raised the possibility that Barrett will be asked about the Christian group during her Senate confirmation hearings, which are set to begin Oct. 12.

The Post reported that Barrett held the title of "handmaid" within the group. The title is a reference to the biblical description of Jesus' mother Mary as "the handmaid of the Lord."

The Post noted that the word "handmaid" holds a recent pop culture connotation as a reference to "The Handmaid's Tale," a television series based on a 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood about a dystopian future where a totalitarian society subjugates fertile women, called "handmaids," to child-bearing slavery. Some progressives have adopted the story as, "an expression of the deepest, most intense political fears haunting liberals during the Trump presidency."

Last month, Newsweek and other publications falsely reported that People of Praise inspired Atwood's story and were forced to issue a correction.

McConnell's office issued a press release criticizing the Post for reporting on the term.

"The word 'handmaid' appears dozens of times in the King James Bible. It was good enough for the Virgin Mary," McConnell said. "But now, because one liberal author put it in the title of an anti-religious novel in the 1980s, the press tries to imply that one of the most brilliant and powerful women in the legal world is anti-woman."

The responsibilities of a "handmaid" in People of Praise include giving younger women advice on issues like "child rearing and marriage." The Post reported that Barrett was "one of three handmaids in the South Bend branch's northwest area" in 2010, and brought attention to Barrett's parents' role in the group:

Barrett's position was in keeping with her family's prior service in the community. Her mother, Linda Coney, served in the New Orleans branch as a handmaid, the Associated Press previously reported, and her father, Michael Coney, led that branch as principal coordinator and sat on the national group's all-male board of governors.

The article highlighted that "handmaids" "did not carry authority equivalent to positions held by men in the group's formal hierarchy." It also stated "some critics of Barrett" accuse People of Praise of holding a "sexist expectation that women defer to men." It also called attention to Barrett's relationship with the People of Praise's co-founder Kevin Ranaghan and the group's "male-dominated hierarchy and view of gender roles."

Also, while in law school, Barrett lived at the South Bend home of People of Praise's influential co-founder Kevin Ranaghan and his wife, Dorothy, who together helped establish the group's male-dominated hierarchy and view of gender roles. The group was one of many to grow out of the charismatic Christian movement, which sought a more intense and communal religious experience by embracing such practices as shared living, faith healing and speaking in tongues.

"Barrett's ties to the group, which has conservative stances on the role of women in society and other social issues, did not come to light until after she was questioned by senators considering her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in 2017," the Post reported. "Senators are preparing to question her next week over her nomination to the high court."

The story also expanded on the "male-dominated hierarchy and view of gender roles" of People of Praise:

The community was led by men, who taught members to run their families according to their interpretation of biblical views of gender roles, according to former members and group documents.

"Women were homemakers; they were there to support their husbands," one former member said in an interview. "My dad was the head of the household and the decision-maker."

A person who was raised in the community said she was instructed by elders not to "emasculate" her male peers by getting the better of them in conversation. "I was made aware of the difference from a young age," the person said. "I was aware that it would have been better if I had been born a boy."

The article also cited critiques of feminism from a 1991 essay by Dorothy Ranaghan, the wife of the group's co-founder:

Dorothy Ranaghan, a former high school religion teacher, co-wrote two books on charismatic Christianity with her husband in the years around People of Praise's founding.

She lamented the impact of modern feminism in a 1991 essay that said "the basic differences between men and women should be respected and given cultural expression" and promoted the traditional roles of husbands as decision-makers and wives as homemakers, even as women pursue professional ambitions.

"The wife for her part is called to submit to her husband, not as a slave, but as a companion," Ranaghan wrote, while stressing that there was "no room here for domination, oppression or of thinking of her as less than a full and free human person." The Post obtained a copy of the essay from a former People of Praise member.

The essay also criticized a magazine for Girl Scout leaders as presenting an "overly aggressive idealization of girls and women."

A spokesman for People of Praise, Sean Connolly, told the Post the Gospel of Jesus Christ treats men and women as equals before God.

"In the People of Praise we live by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which recognizes that men and women share a fundamental equality as bearers of God's image and sons and daughters of God," he said. "We value independent thinking, and teach it in our schools."

McConnell characterized the Post article and other "attacks" on Barrett as a "disgrace."

"The ongoing attacks by Senate Democrats and the media on Judge Barrett's faith are a disgrace. They demean the confirmation process, disrespect the Constitution, and insult millions of American believers," McConnell said.

He accused the press of "following the lead of Senate Democrats," pointing out that last week Judiciary Committee member Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said Barrett's "closely held views" were relevant to her confirmation, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) wrote a letter calling Barrett's views "disqualifying" based on a report that Barrett signed a pro-life ad sponsored by a group that opposes in-vitro fertilization.

"These euphemisms fool no one," McConnell said. "United States Senators are suggesting that Judge Barrett is too Christian, or the wrong kind of Christian, to be a good judge."

"The secular left says they're for progress, but they've just wandered back into the embarrassing tropes of the 1960s, when some argued John F. Kennedy would obey the Pope over the national interest," he continued. "These disgraceful attacks only reinforce why it is crucial to confirm judges like Judge Barrett who understand and respect our Constitution, including its protections for all Americans' religious liberty."

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