In Obamacare’s collision course with Americans’ freedom, one of the first casualties is religious liberty. Despite the Administration’s obfuscating press comments, the finalized preventive services mandate changed nothing from the interim rule. It put into law the requirement that many religious employers violate their deeply held beliefs by paying for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization. Many recognize the religious liberty violations in the mandate—and Obamacare’s broader threats to individual liberty—will not be rectified unless the health care law is repealed.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains that the President’s February 10 announcement of a supposed “accommodation” amounted to nothing more than a smoke screen for the submission of the final mandate without any greater protection of religious liberty.

The rule that created the uproar has not changed at all, but was finalized as is. Friday evening, after a day of touting meaningful changes in the mandate, [Department of Health and Human Services] HHS issued a regulation finalizing the rule first issued in August 2011, “without change.” So religious employers dedicated to serving people of other faiths are still not exempt as “religious employers.” Indeed, the rule describes them as “non-exempt.”…The new “accommodation” is not a current rule, but a promise that comes due beyond the point of public accountability. Also on Friday evening, HHS issued regulations describing the intention to develop more regulations that would apply the same mandate differently to “non-exempt, non-profit religious organizations”—the charities, schools, and hospitals that are still left out of the “religious employer” exemption. These policies will be developed over a one-year delay in enforcement, so if they turn out badly, their impact will not be felt until August 2013, well after the election.

Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of the anti-conscience mandate is the Administration’s insinuation that religious faith should remain behind church doors, away from public service. As Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer, after outlining the many services provided to the Philadelphia community by Catholic institutions:

Many critics are focusing on the details of this or that particular version of the HHS regulation—the narrowness of the religious exemption, the breadth of the mandate, the hollowness of the grace period. As useful as this approach may be, it risks wandering into the weeds. The White House response on these points is ambiguous and weak. The true magnitude of the issue is getting lost as just another debate about details. In reality, no similarly aggressive attack on religious freedom in our country has occurred in recent memory….At its heart is a seemingly deep distrust of the formative role religious faith has on personal and social conduct, and a deep distaste for religion’s moral influence on public affairs. To say that this view is contrary to the Founders’ thinking and the record of American history would be an understatement….Catholics should not be misled into accepting feeble compromises on issues of principle. The HHS mandate is bad law; and not merely bad, but dangerous and insulting. It needs to be withdrawn—now.

Yuval Levin, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, similarly noted that the continuing outcry over the anti-conscience mandate’s violation of religious freedom is revealing Obamacare’s inherent threat to liberty in general.

The White House’s reaction is yet further proof that the debate surrounding the HHS rule is about much more than religious liberty—and indeed is about much more than the HHS rule. It is about liberty as such, and the threats posed to it by Obamacare as a whole. It powerfully reinforces the case for replacing this detestable law, and for replacing its authors, with alternatives far more friendly to freedom and a properly limited government—not to mention far better able to actually address the problems with our health-care system.

Numerous individuals and leaders from various faith backgrounds, including Roman Catholic, Jewish, evangelical, and Protestant traditions, continue to reject the Administration’s trampling on religious leaders. More than 300 leaders have now signed on to a letter asserting that the mandate’s violation of religious liberty is “unacceptable.” The letter states:

The simple fact is that the Obama administration is compelling religious people and institutions who are employers to purchase a health insurance contract that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization. This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand.

In The Wall Street Journal last week, David Rivkin, who was counsel for the 26-state challenge to Obamacare in the lower courts, joined Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, in outlining some of the ways the mandate violates constitutional principles. In addition to infringing on the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion, the authors argue the mandate also violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits a governmental burden on religious freedom without “a compelling governmental interest.”

The anti-conscience mandate was also included in new amicus briefs submitted last week to the Supreme Court, supporting the challenge to the constitutionality of Obamacare. The Independent Women’s Forum submitted an amicus brief in the case, commenting on the mandate:

Whether contraception ought to be available free of charge to all who want it is an important and complex social question that ought to be left open to debate. We fear that the failures by Congress and the Executive Branch to exempt conscientious objectors is but a “precursor of the state’s hostility” to ideas that it disagrees with.

Americans United for Life, the Alliance Defense Fund, and other pro-life groups also filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court last week, arguing that Obamacare’s provision of taxpayer funding for abortion violates many Americans’ conscience rights. Drawing a parallel between the anti-conscience mandate’s attack on religious liberty and Obamacare’s general assault on individual liberty, the brief states:

Not surprisingly, Congress’ act of overreaching via the challenged Act to impose a coast-to-coast one-size-fits-all mandatory insurance regime has subsequently infringed religious liberties in other severe ways. In particular, the recent regulatory decision by HHS to force virtually all employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs will force many religious individuals and organizations into a choice to either violate their religion or pay exorbitant penalties that could put them out of business….Under the Interim Final Rule on Preventive Services,…HHS has provided a grossly inadequate religious employer exemption that would not cover most religious organizations….HHS has not explained the basis for this extremely cramped view of religious liberty. But regardless of HHS’s reasons, it was never supposed to have the power to put religious objectors in this position in the first place because the Founders wisely denied Congress the power to pass onerously invasive laws such as the challenged Act.

With last week’s publication of the final rule in the Federal Register, Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate will threaten the right of employers and individuals to act according to their deeply held beliefs. Until Obamacare—along with its many violations of liberty—is repealed, outcry against such restrictions of freedom is likely to continue as well.