Rhetorical question, of course. No, they really can't.
After the HHS ruled that contraceptive coverage was part of the definition of "preventative care" that would be a requirement without copay for all insurance plans, the Church threw a hissy. They claimed that their religion was being disrespected. Mind you, the churches themselves were covered by a religious exemption from the very start. Nobody ever tried to force churches to offer contraceptive-covering insurance plans to their employees, despite what the Catholic Church claimed. No, the problem was in Catholic-controlled hospitals and schools, which, despite being religiously-affiliated, did not meet the religious exemption criteria of primarily serving and employing those of their own religion. So because Catholic hospitals and schools routinely employ non-Catholics, and offer services to the general public, they would be required, like all other employers, to offer insurance plans to their employees which cover contraceptives. They appealed. The Obama administration refused their appeal, but gave them an extra year to figure out the logistics of transitioning their insurance.
Apparently that's not good enough, and in a truly epic tantrum, they had letters from the bishops read in services across the country, condemning the administration's decision and framing it as a matter of religious freedom and civil disobedience in defense of their cherished rights to religious liberty. Seriously, read it:
In so ruling, the Obama Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation's first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). ... We cannot--we will not--comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America's cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights.Dramatic, isn't it? "Cast aside the First Amendment"! "We will not comply with this unjust law"! People of faith as second-class citizens! Stripped of our God-given rights! Dramatic and scary and completely, totally, utterly, and in all possible ways, bullshit.
I know I've said this before, but obviously, it bears repeating: imposing your religiously-motivated will on others who do not share your faith is not an integral part of religious freedom. "My religion says I have to be the boss of your underpants" is not a valid religious-liberty argument to compel the law to support your bossing of other people's underpants, and denying you the support of law in being the boss of other people's underpants is not "making you a second-class citizen" - not in any world except your fevered imagination, anyway.
And now, the next salvo has been fired - a petition is up on the We The People site, calling on the Obama administration to rescind the HHS ruling on contraceptive coverage by religiously-affiliated businesses. (You can find it here, if you want to look - be warned, it doesn't even try to make sense in its reasoning. Something about the government "deigning to represent transcendental truth", which, bwuh?) NARAL Pro-Choice America has put up a counter-petition, available here, which you can sign if you have a WTP account, asking the administration to remain supportive of the ruling.
I never thought I'd say this - as the half-dozen lolsobtastic petition "responses" sitting in my inbox waiting to be posted here for the lulz can attest - but you know, for once I'm actually glad of the total ineffectiveness of We The People as a platform for petitioning the Obama administration to do anything. They can sign all they want (and so can we); I doubt either petition will make even the slightest bit of difference.
In fact, I might be convinced to bet actual money that both petitions, assuming each makes the 25k signature minimum, would receive exactly the same copy-pasted response reasserting the administration's position on the mandate.
Any takers? ;-)