Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - One of Obamacare's worst mandates that threatens to undermine our religious freedoms has run into a small, determined band of Catholic nuns.

As key parts of President Obama's health care program went into effect Wednesday, a surprising Supreme Court order delayed a provision that will force religious groups to provide birth control procedures in their health insurance plans.

In a David versus Goliath legal battle, Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued the stay late Tuesday in response to a plea from the Little Sisters of the Poor, a nonprofit order of nuns in Colorado who provide charitable services to low income and indigent, elderly people.

Their complaint: that the law's mandate violates one of their most deeply-held religious beliefs opposing artificial forms of birth control and abortion procedures, and thus is an attack on their religious freedom.

That mandate forces most employers to provide health care plans that will fully pay for drugs and procedures that include birth control pills, the morning-after pill to end a pregnancy, and surgical procedures such as tubal ligation.

The nuns were not the only group seeking protection from Obama's assault on religious freedom. Sotomayor's delay applied to over 200 religious, faith-based groups that have health insurance provided by the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, a company that follows Catholic teachings on birth control.

This is the latest development in a growing controversy over the mandates and regulations that will force religious groups to offer birth control services that they consider a sin against their faith, or else pay heavy fines for refusing to do so.

And not just religious orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor. It also extends to colleges and universities, parochial schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare and social welfare organizations run by or associated with a church.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified on December 15, 1791, states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

That is what's at stake in this widening battle over a healthcare mandate that thumbs its nose at fundamental religious beliefs that run contrary to government policy.

Earlier this week, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who heads the U.S.

Conference of Catholic Bishops, complained in a letter to Obama that while some interest groups have won reprieves of one sort or another from the law, not those whose religious liberties are threatened.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.