Call it what you want — a circus, a sideshow, or just plain old political rhetoric — but for the past week America has watched the media elite and some in Washington bend over backward to turn attention away from an issue that is fundamental to the future of this country: Obamacare’s attack on individual liberty. While those who favor its mandates may think they have changed the debate and quelled opposition, they are sorely mistaken.

It all stems from a decision by the Obama Administration to mandate that religious employers, including schools, hospitals, and charities, provide health care coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and contraception despite the fact that such coverage is in total contradiction of many of these groups’ core religious beliefs. Some have attempted to make this a debate about other issues, but despite their efforts, the core complaint about this anti-conscience mandate remains: The President’s policy is an unprecedented attack on all Americans’ rights as protected by the First Amendment. And those who prize religious liberty aren’t backing down.

In a letter last week to Catholic bishops in the United States, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and president of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, described his resolve to continue opposition to the mandate, despite the White House’s call to come to the table of so-called “accommodation”:

We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans. We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it . . .

At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom — that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption — are all off the table. They were informed that they are. So much for ‘working out the wrinkles.’ Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the “enlightened” voices of accommodation . . .

Given this climate, we have to prepare for tough times.

Catholics are by no means alone in their outrage against the mandate. More than 2,700 evangelical pastors and Christian leaders have signed a Family Research Council letter to the President in which they, too, voice their defense of liberty:

Our country was founded on certain freedoms, the first of which is the freedom of religion. The ability of a religious person to follow their conscience without fearing government intervention has long been a protected right for Americans. It is unfathomable to picture a country that would deny religious freedoms.

. . . Thomas Jefferson drafted the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1779, which passed in 1786, and set the stage for the First Amendment. In it, Jefferson states: “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.” Consequently, we ask that you would reverse this decision and protect the conscience rights of those who have biblically-based opposition to funding or providing contraceptives and abortifacients.

But it’s not just religious institutions that will feel the brunt of the mandate. As Dolan points out, individual believers will be forced to pay for measures that violate their religious freedom and conscience. He writes, “We can’t abandon the hard working person of faith who has a right to religious freedom.” Individual liberties are in jeopardy, and the assault on freedoms is not limited just to the right to practice one’s faith. Indeed, the power granted to the federal government under Obamacare is boundless, and Washington will have growing leverage to make decisions that alter our lives in ways that can’t even be predicted. Billie Tucker, a leader of Florida’s First Coast Tea Party, says that this is but the next step in a troubling trend:

First they came for our money when they bailed out irresponsible banks, companies and individuals. Our personal and national financial security is now at risk.

Then they took away the ability to choose our own doctors, insurance carriers, and treatments. “It is only fair,” they said as they rammed down our throats the most intrusive legislation ever in our lifetime. Our personal health is now at risk.

And now they come for what drove so many of our founding fathers to America’s shores. They want to mandate religious institutions, schools, and people of faith by forcing them to pay for morally objectionable services that run counter to their religious beliefs. Freedom of religion is now at risk.

The First Amendment has been dismantled before our eyes.

America is now at risk.

No matter the direction the debate has taken, the deeply flawed policy remains, as does the opposition. Fortunately, Americans are not powerless to take action against this continuing encroachment on liberty. To begin with, Congress can and should take action now to stand in opposition to this anti-conscience mandate and ensure that the liberties guaranteed under the First Amendment remain intact. As Obamacare’s two-year anniversary approaches, we’ve already seen two monumental reasons it must be repealed: the individual mandate and the anti-conscience mandate. But these are by no means the last of Obamacare’s attacks on Americans’ liberty.

The anti-conscience mandate must go. Obamacare must go.

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