Leaders of the Catholic church and President Barack Obama remain on a collision course.
What President Obama considers a modification of his edict that Catholic institutions be required to provide insurance coverage for abortion and contraception has been flatly rejected by church leaders.
They remain outraged, and justifiably so, over what they consider to be an egregious violation of their constitutionally protected right to religious freedom and contend that "the only complete solution ... is for HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services."
Despite that blast from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, there is no sign that Obama will offer anything more than some rhetorical sleight of hand aimed at easing his mandate's sting. White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew indicated Obama's decision is final and the administration now will "move ahead with implementing the current plan."
This controversy broke wide open last week when Catholic leaders announced their objections to being forced to provide insurance coverage to employees of church-run institutions that cover procedures and services that violate church doctrine.
They felt they had received assurances during the congressional debate two years ago over Obamacare that the church's beliefs in those areas would be respected. But while exempting Catholic churches, Obama ordered that church-run organizations, including hospitals and social service agencies, must comply with a one-size-fits-all insurance benefits package that includes abortion and contraception.
In his modified plan aimed at appeasing church leaders, Obama announced that the church will be excused from paying for services they disavow because insurance companies will provide that coverage at no cost.
In other words, the White House contends, insurance companies will cover the cost of abortion and birth control pills for free.
Really. Since when did insurance companies start operating as philanthropic institutions? Insurance companies will charge employers — including church-run institutions — premiums to cover all their costs, and employers will pay those premiums.
Some have cast this issue as an effort by the Catholic church to deny women access to these services. The church couldn't do that if it tried. Access to abortion and contraception services are federally guaranteed constitutional rights.
What church leaders want is not to be required to pay for services the church considers morally objectionable. Further, they contend that the First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion requires the Obama administration to back off.
Since Obama has indicated that won't happen, we're headed for a legal and legislative fight to determine whether there is any limit on the authority of this administration — or any future administration — to dictate the specifics of medical insurance coverage under Obamacare to all employers.
Efforts already are under way on Capitol Hill to revise this particular interpretation of Obamacare. If nothing constructive happens there, this fight will move to the courts, creating another chapter in this country's centuries-long legal debate over religious freedom.
Since this battle began, news stories have routinely pointed out that public opinion polls show the majority of people, perhaps even the majority of Catholics, support access to abortion and contraception, and, therefore, are indifferent to the church's claims.
That's interesting but irrelevant, and here's why.
In this country, individual rights aren't subject to a yea or nay vote by the crowd, not even a thoughtful crowd. Thanks to the everlasting wisdom of the Founding Fathers, the rights outlined in the Constitution's Bill of Rights are inviolable.
Catholic leaders insist the church is protected by the First Amendment, and it's indicated it's willing to go to the mat to ensure that it is. Those who revere this nation's founding document should stand with them.