Strong stuff from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

[Resistance to the HHS mandate] is not about access to contraception, which is ubiquitous and inexpensive, even when it is not provided by the Church’s hand and with the Church’s funds. This is not about the religious freedom of Catholics only, but also of those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block. This is not about the Bishops’ somehow “banning contraception,” when the U.S. Supreme Court took that issue off the table two generations ago. Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the Church—consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions—to act against Church teachings. This is not a matter of opposition to universal health care, which has been a concern of the Bishops’ Conference since 1919, virtually at its founding. This is not a fight we want or asked for, but one forced upon us by government on its own timing. Finally, this is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue.

Read the whole thing here (HT Rocco Palmo at Whispers). One thing that’s worth noting is that this statement includes concerns for private individuals:

The HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values. They, too, face a government mandate to aid in providing “services” contrary to those values—whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves—without even the semblance of an exemption.

Many Catholics running small businesses or working in the health care professions have had grave concerns that the Catholic leadership (as well as others leading the fight) would be content simply to protect religious institutions like hospitals and universities. Here we see they haven’t been forsaken.

While we’re at it, don’t miss the latest crucial statement from Evangelicals and Catholics Together, “In Defense of Religious Freedom,” published in First Things and (as I’ve linked it for you) free on the website. In the works of course for some time, the statement came out serendipitously (providentially?) just after the HHS brouhaha erupted. Ironically, however, the statement hasn’t occasioned much discussion — probably because responding to the five-alarm fire the Administration set precluded the reflective, substantive, and sustained discussion the statement merits.

Finally, here’s a novena (which is a nine-day series of prayers dedicated to a specific request or, as Catholics say, intention) regarding the HHS mandate. Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life composed it as an “ecumenical novena,” meaning, I suspect, none of the prayers will involve stuff Protestants and evangelicals couldn’t in good conscience pray.

UPDATE: George Weigel comments on the USCCB statement here:

[T]hose who expected the bishops to try and find some 50-yard line of agreement with the administration, a middle ground on which the Church’s institutions would be protected while individual Catholic employers would be left to the tender mercies of HHS, were proven exactly wrong: The bishops intend to defend religious freedom in full, and that defense will be all-in.

[...]

In sum, the bishops have rebuffed calls for a tactical retreat; the analysts who have not grasped the sea-change in perspective of the bishops’ conference have been confounded; the Catholic Lite brigades have been challenged to think again about the gravity of the theological and constitutional issues involved in the mandate; and those who have supported the bishops thus far have been affirmed in their work.

There will be no compromise here, for there can be no compromise of first principles. Those who understand that will gather their energies and continue to defend both Catholic and American tradition.