Catholic lawmaker seeks colleagues' support for HHS mandate suits

Congressman Jeff Landry speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans Louisiana Credit Gage SkidmoreCC BY SA 20 CNA US Catholic News 6 7 12 Rep. Jeff Landry speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, La. | Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A Catholic congressman from Louisiana is organizing an effort to have lawmakers file legal briefs in favor of lawsuits against the Obama administration's controversial contraception mandate.

"It's one way that members of Congress can get involved," said Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.).

He told CNA on June 6 that as a lawyer, he understands the effect of amicus briefs filed by members of Congress. While such legal briefs are not binding, they "show the support" of U.S. legislators, he said.

The D.C.-based American Center for Law and Justice is helping draft the briefs, which should be finalized in the coming weeks.

Congress members will be able to sign on to the briefs arguing against a federal mandate that will require employers and colleges to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.

The regulation has drawn strong criticism for violating the religious freedom of those who object to it. Although it includes an exemption, it is so narrow that most religious organizations – including hospitals, schools and charitable agencies – would not qualify for it.

A legislative attempt to secure a broader exemption for those with religious or moral objections was narrowly defeated in the Senate this past March.

Concerned Americans are now increasingly turning to the courts to uphold their First Amendment freedoms. So far, the mandate has prompted a total of 23 lawsuits, filed by 56 plaintiffs in jurisdictions across the country.

Dioceses, colleges, Catholic Charities, private business owners and seven U.S. states are among those who have challenged the mandate. The cases may eventually be consolidated as they progress through the court system.

Rep. Landry explained that his briefs "will accompany each of the suits as they move through the courts."

Legislators in both the House and Senate are welcome to sign on to the briefs, and Rep. Landry said that he would love to see every member of Congress speak out against this "clear violation" of religious liberty.

With legislative efforts failing to yield results, he believes that the briefs "give us another avenue" to join in the fight for freedom.

Rep. Landry said that his Catholic faith plays a strong role in shaping his decisions.

He related that he was born in Southern Louisiana in a "devout Roman Catholic family" and earned a law degree from a Catholic university.

"I was always taught that it's God first, then country," he said.

The congressman added that he shares the American founders' belief in the importance of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

"Our form of government is based on Juedo-Christian principles," he said, explaining that he finds it "extremely troubling" that the administration would now "ignore" the concerns of religious groups across the nation.

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He also expressed concerns about the "slippery slope" that may form once liberties begin to erode.

"It strikes at the very foundation of what this country was founded upon," he said.

Rep. Landry believes that the mandate will ultimately come before the Supreme Court. While he does not know how the high court will rule, he hopes that it is "on the side of religious freedom."

"It's pretty evident that if you read the Constitution, we're on the right side," he said.

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