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Amy Coney Barrett’s Christian group probed by FBI: What we know

The FBI has reportedly interviewed a number of individuals who alleged they were abused by members of a Christian group that counts Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett as a member.

Barrett’s affiliation with People of Praise, a conservative religious group that elevates the role of men, drew scrutiny ahead of her appointment to the highest court in the nation.

One former member told Newsweek in 2020 that women are expected to be “absolutely obedient” to their husbands and the men in the group and those who aren’t are “shamed, shunned, humiliated.”

At least five individuals have been contacted by the FBI, a spokesperson for a group called PoP Survivors confirmed to Newsweek on Tuesday. The development was first reported by The Guardian.

An FBI spokesperson declined to confirm whether or not it was investigating. “As a matter of longstanding policy, the FBI neither confirms nor denies the existence of investigations,” they told Newsweek.

Newsweek reached out to the People of Praise for comment via email. Barrett has been contacted through a Supreme Court spokesperson for comment.

PoP Survivors has engaged in a years-long effort calling for the group, based in South Bend, Indiana, to be investigated for its handling of sexual abuse allegations.

“After years of inaction by the People of Praise, our PoP Survivors group recently voted unanimously to approach federal law enforcement,” the spokesperson for PoP Survivors said in a statement.

“We showed the FBI a pattern of sexual abuse and cover-up in the People of Praise spanning decades. This involves pressuring victims not to go to law enforcement, moving perpetrators around, and claiming perpetrators had been ‘healed’ rather than reporting them to law enforcement.”

The spokesperson said they expect the FBI to contact more individuals.

The FBI spokesperson added that the bureau “investigates individuals who commit or intend to commit violence and other criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security.

“Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on criminal activity. We are committed to upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans and will never open an investigation based solely on First Amendment-protected activity. Membership in groups is not illegal in and of itself and is protected by the First Amendment.”

What former People of Praise members told Newsweek

Coral Anika Theill, who was formerly a member of a branch of People of Praise in Corvallis, Oregon, has described the group as a “charismatic dictatorship” and a “cult.”

“There was a lot of abuse and shaming, shunning, intimidation, bullying going on,” she said. “You did not say no, or there was retaliation.”

Theill says the five years she spent in the community between 1979 and 1984 traumatized her.

“There’s just a lot of rules,” she said. “As a wife, I couldn’t even see my doctor alone. I couldn’t see my family unless they gave me permission. I couldn’t talk to neighbors, I couldn’t see or talk to friends.”

Sean Connelly, communications director for People of Praise, told Newsweek in 2020 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.”

Tim Kaiser, who grew up in the People of Praise, left when he turned 18 in 1997 after growing disillusioned with the level of authority the group exerts on members and its insular nature.

He told Newsweek that women submitting to their husbands “is not negotiable or figurative.”

“In the case of a woman, her ‘head’ is her husband—that’s who is in charge of her. That is the person who is supposed to be making all of her moral decisions and taking responsibility for the condition of her soul. It’s really creepy, but that’s the idea.”

Update 10/04/23, 10:15 a.m. ET: This article was updated with a statement from the FBI.

Update 10/03/23, 10:23 a.m. ET: This article was updated with comment from a PoP Survivors spokesperson.

Update 10/03/23, 8:30 a.m. ET: This article was updated with additional background information.

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