Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett served for nearly three years on the board of private Christian schools that effectively barred admission to children of same-sex parents and made it plain that openly gay and lesbian teachers weren’t welcome in the classroom.
The policies that discriminated against LGBTQ people and their children were in place for years at Trinity Schools Inc., both before Barrett joined the board in 2015 and while she served.
The three schools, in Indiana, Minnesota and Virginia, are affiliated with People of Praise, an insular community rooted in its own interpretation of the Bible, of which Barrett and her husband have been longtime members. At least three of the couple’s seven children have attended the Trinity School at Greenlawn, in South Bend, Indiana.
The Associated Press spoke with more than two dozen people who attended or worked at Trinity Schools or are former members of People of Praise. They said the community’s teachings have been consistent for decades: Homosexuality is an abomination against God, sex should occur only within marriage and marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Interviewees told the AP that Trinity’s leadership communicated anti-LGBTQ policies and positions in meetings, one-on-one conversations, enrollment agreements, employment agreements, handbooks and written policies, including those in place when Barrett was an active member of the board.
“Trinity Schools does not unlawfully discriminate with respect to race, color, gender, national origin, age, disability, or other legally protected classifications under applicable law,” the president of Trinity Schools Inc., Jon Balsbaugh, said in an email.
The school’s and organization’s teachings on homosexuality and treatment of LGBTQ people are harsher than those of the mainstream Catholic Church. In a documentary released Wednesday, Pope Francis endorsed civil unions for the first time as pope, and he said in an interview: “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God.”
Barrett’s views on gay rights became a focus last week in her Senate confirmation hearing. But her membership in People of Praise and her leadership position at Trinity Schools were not discussed, even though most of the people the AP spoke with said her involvement signals she would be hostile to gay rights if confirmed.
Suzanne B. Goldberg, a professor at Columbia Law School, said private schools have wide legal latitude to set admissions criteria. And, she said, Trinity probably isn’t covered by recent Supreme Court rulings outlawing employment discrimination against LGBTQ people because of its affiliation with a religious community. Cases addressing those questions are likely to come before the high court soon, she said.
“When any member of the judiciary affiliates themselves with an institution that is committed to discrimination on any ground, it is important to look more closely at how that affects the individual’s ability to give all cases a fair hearing,” Goldberg said.
The AP sent detailed questions for Barrett to the White House press office. Rather than providing direct answers, White House spokesman Judd Deere accused the AP of attacking the nominee.
“Because Democrats and the media are unable to attack Judge Barrett’s sterling qualifications, they have instead turned to pathetic personal attacks on her children’s Christian school, even though the Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed that religious schools are protected by the First Amendment,” Deere said by email.
Nearly all the people interviewed for this story are gay or said they have gay family members. They used words such as “terrified” and “frightening” to describe the prospect of Barrett on the high court. Some know Barrett and describe her as “nice” or “kind” but said they feared others would suffer if she tries to implement People of Praise’s views on homosexuality on the Supreme Court.
About half the people asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation against themselves or their families from other members of People of Praise or because they had not come out to everyone in their lives. Among those interviewed were people who attended all three of its schools and who had been active in several of its 22 branches. Their experiences stretched from as far back as the 1970s to as recently as 2020.
Tom Henry, for example, was a student ambassador at Trinity School in Eagan, Minnesota, providing tours to prospective families in 2017 when a lesbian parent asked him whether Trinity was open to gay people.
Henry, who's gay, said he had been instructed not to answer questions about People of Praise or Trinity’s “politics.” He said he asked the school’s then-headmaster, Balsbaugh, how he should have answered.
“He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘The next time that happens, you tell them they would not be welcome here,’” Henry recounted.
Balsbaugh said his recollection of the conversation “differs considerably,” but he declined to give details. He said it's likely he shared the school’s guidelines that at that time “had long been published in the parent handbook.”
Several official Trinity documents say sex is allowed only within marriage and marriage is defined as between one man and one woman. “Blatant sexual immorality (for example, fornication, adultery, homosexual acts, etc.) has no place in the culture of Trinity Schools,” an employment agreement obtained by AP said.
Balsbaugh told the AP that Barrett was not involved in developing any policies pertaining to homosexuality or same-sex marriage. And he said the school’s policies are designed to avoid confusion.
“The reason was not any desire to judge or punish, but to avoid potential confusion for our students regarding our consistent position that sexual activity is meant to be only within marriage, understood as the union of one man and one woman,” Balsbaugh said.
Andrea Turpin-King enrolled in the Trinity school in South Bend in 1990, shortly after her father was killed after leaving a gay bar. She said one of her teachers told the class that all gay people go to hell.
“All I could picture was my dad’s face, and all I could think about was how much I missed his hugs,” Turpin-King told the AP. She told the teacher she disagreed, “And she said that I was going to go to hell, too.”
Turpin-King says she has loved ones in the People of Praise community but doesn’t believe Barrett should be on the Supreme Court.
“I am deeply concerned about my queer friends. I’m concerned about my own children,” Turpin-King said. “From what I experienced in People of Praise, as a student of one of their schools, everyone needs to be petrified, frankly.”
Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.