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Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett faces calls to recuse herself from LGBTQ case over Christian faith

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Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett is facing calls to recuse herself due to her Christian faith from an upcoming case involving a web designer’s handling of wedding websites for LGBTQ clients. 

Former members of People of Praise, a network of lay Christian communities founded in 1971 in South Bend, Indiana, spoke to The Guardian arguing that Barrett should recuse herself from the case of 303 Creative LLC v. Aubrey Elenis. The Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments on Dec. 5. 

Barrett, a devout Catholic, has not spoken publicly about her affiliation with the secretive faith group People of Praise, which considers her a member. Conservatives argued that Barrett’s faith was wrongfully weaponized during her 2020 confirmation hearings, when the Trump appointee told senators her personal religious beliefs would not interfere with her abilities to be an unbiased judge. 

Nevertheless, the justice’s affiliation with the group is being brought up again. 

‘I don’t believe that someone in her 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 46-year-old raised in a People of Praise community, told The Guardian. Sullivan, who identified as bisexual, said she came out at 19 and her parents cut her off and prevented her from spending time alone with a younger sister. They have since rekindled their relationship after the parents left the People of Praise community. 

The case of 303 Creative LLC v. Aubrey Elenis involves Lorie Smith, owner and founder of a graphic design firm, who wants to post a statement saying she will not take on clients requesting wedding website designs for same-sex couples, as gay marriage conflicts with her religious beliefs. 

The court will deliberate whether the Colorado AntiDiscrimination Act, which prohibits businesses that are open to the public from discriminating on the basis of numerous characteristics, including sexual orientation, violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Smith maintains that she has worked with LGBTQ clients on other projects that don’t conflict with her religious beliefs. 

‘A win for Lori would not only be a win for her, it would also be a win for the LGBT graphic designer who doesn’t want to be forced to create art and promote messages that they disagree with,’ Smith’s lead attorney, Kristen K. Waggoner, told The Washington Examiner. 

But the so-called ‘survivors’ who left the group pointed to Barrett’s former position on the board of Trinity Schools Inc., which is affiliated with People of Praise. Barrett joined the board in 2015. 

A faculty guide from that same year said, ‘blatant sexual immorality’ – including ‘homosexual acts’ – had ‘no place in the culture of Trinity Schools.’ The policy was in place before and after Barrett joined. It reportedly prevented children who had same-sex parents from enrolling in the school network, according to The Guardian. 

‘The People of Praise has deeply entrenched, anti-gay values that negatively affect the lives of real people, including vulnerable youth. These values show up in the everyday policies of the People of Praise and their schools. They are policies that are way outside the mainstream, and most Americans would be disturbed by them,’ Kevin Connolly, a former member of the People of Praise, told The Guardian. Connolly, whose brother is the group’s main spokesman, had publicly commented in the past about the physical abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of his father. 

Legal experts contend that Barrett is unlikely to recuse herself from the case. 

‘Supreme Court justices have views and are connected with a lot of organizations, a lot of groups just in general, and that’s not enough,’ Jonathan Entin, a constitutional law professor at Case Western University, told the Examiner. 

Paul Collins, a legal studies and political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told Newsweek, ‘There is essentially no chance Justice Barrett will recuse herself from the case based on the calls from former People of Praise members to do so.’ 

‘The reason is that the allegations of a conflict are too broad to be meaningful and could apply to membership in a wide array of religious organizations that would effectively preclude many justices from ever hearing cases about any issues that remotely involve religion,’ Collins added. 

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