SCOTUS Justice Amy Coney Barrett Urged to Skip LGBTQ+ Rights Case

Amy Coney Barrett
Amy Coney Barrett

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett should recuse herself from an LGBTQ+ rights case the court is scheduled to hear in December, say former members of People of Praise, a religious group to which Barrett belongs.

Barrett’s “lifelong and continued” membership in the group means she has anti-LGBTQ+ bias she can’t put aside when hearing the case of a Colorado website designer who wants to refuse services to same-sex couples, even though state law bans such discrimination, the former People of Praise members told The Guardian.

People of Praise is an interdenominational conservative Christian group that believes, among other things, that wives should be subservient to their husbands, and it is also anti-LGBTQ+. The group operates Trinity Schools, which has Christian schools in Indiana, Minnesota, and Virginia, where it is clear that LGBTQ+ employees and children of LGBTQ+ parents are not welcome. Barrett was a trustee of Trinity Schools for two years and sent some of her children to one of its schools, located in South Bend, Ind.

On December 5, the Supreme Court will hear the case of 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. Lorie Smith, the owner of 303 Creative, wants to expand her wedding website business but wishes to state up front that she will not serve same-sex couples. She says creating wedding websites for these couples would violate her conservative Christian beliefs and her free speech rights.

She filed suit in 2016 challenging Colorado’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law. She lost at the federal district court and appeals court levels. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear her case but only on the free speech claim. Elenis, by the way, is Aubrey Elenis, director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which enforces the state’s antidiscrimination law. Smith filed her case before the state attempted to enforce the law against her.

“I don’t believe that someone in [Barrett’s] position, who is a member of this group, could put those biases aside, especially in a decision like the one coming up,” Maura Sullivan, a bisexual woman whose parents were People of Praise members, told The Guardian.

Sullivan came out to her parents when she was 19, and they decreed that she couldn’t be alone with her 13-year-old sister, “because I could ‘influence’ her in bad ways,” Sullivan said. “Stuff like that. So I had a tenuous relationship with my family. To be cut off from my family was the ultimate loss of community.” Her parents are no longer in People of Praise, and her relationship with her family was eventually repaired, she said.

Barrett’s connection with People of Praise was reported when the U.S. Senate was considering her nomination to the Supreme Court in 2020, but it did not come up in her confirmation hearings, and she has never publicly affirmed that she is a member of the group. Questions have also been raised about her work with Alliance Defending Freedom, the anti-LGBTQ+ legal nonprofit representing Smith. Before Barrett became a Supreme Court justice, she did five paid speaking engagements, beginning in 2011, for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a program of the ADF. She has said her speeches were on constitutional law and had nothing to do with any type of discrimination.

Barrett, like fellow conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, was nominated to the court by Donald Trump. In her confirmation hearings, she was evasive about many of her views, including her thoughts on marriage equality and abortion rights. Once on the Supreme Court, she, as expected, ruled against abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a decision that upheld a restrictive Mississippi law and overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that had guaranteed abortion rights nationwide. She has also sided with religious plaintiffs in rulings that threaten to weaken the separation of church and state.

People of Praise did not respond to The Guardian’s request for comment. It appears unlikely that Barrett would recuse herself from the case — whether to recuse is basically up to the justices themselves. There have been calls for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases involving the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, given his wife Ginni Thomas’s connection with people seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, but Clarence Thomas has not done so.