WASHINGTON, May 17, 2012 ( – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has warned that it was prepared to take the Obama administration to court if it won’t rescind a rule forcing religious employers to pay for employees’ birth control.

In a letter Tuesday, attorneys for the USCCB restated that the “accommodation” offered by President Obama has left the HHS mandate “entirely unchanged” from their original form as proposed in August 2011, leaving the bishops with no choice but to pursue legal means if the mandate is not rescinded.

“We are convinced that no public good is served by this unprecedented nationwide mandate, and that forcing individual and institutional stakeholders to sponsor and subsidize an otherwise widely available product over their religious and moral objections serves no legitimate, let alone compelling, government interest,” wrote General Counsel Anthony R. Picarello, Jr. and Associate General Counsel Michael Moses to U.S. health officials. 

“Indeed … such coercion is a serious violation of federal statutory and constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and rights of conscience,” they wrote. “Absent prompt congressional attention to this infringement on fundamental civil liberties, we believe the only remaining recourse, in light of the approaching regulatory deadlines, is in the courts.”

The comments were submitted in response to an HHS Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on preventive services, which expressed the administration’s intention to propose additional regulations establishing alternative ways of ensuring contraceptive coverage for religious employees while still “accommodating” their organizations.

The USCCB attorneys noted that the accommodation would only apply to some religious organizations, and that it would still make employee health plans the conduit for such services, although “the use of premiums and plans for that purpose is precisely what is morally objectionable, and having an insurer or third party administer the payments does not overcome the moral objection.”

Religious opponents to the HHS mandate, which USCCB president Cardinal Timothy Dolan has called “literally unconscionable,” are planning a second demonstration on June 8 after demonstrations earlier this Spring drew tens of thousands in 146 U.S. cities.