Just one week after the Religious Right and the Catholic hierarchy suffered a stinging defeat of their agenda on Election Day, the bishops are back in the fight against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.

In an interview with The National Catholic Register, Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said the upcoming congressional debate over the Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill for fiscal 2013 will offer a chance to tackle this controversial issue.

The bishops are seeking an even broader exemption from the Obama mandate that requires group insurance plans to include benefits for preventative care services, including contraceptives. Churches are already exempt from the rule, but the hierarchy wants an open-ended exemption for all employers – even businesses like Taco Bell – who might claim a religious objection to birth control.

If the Catholic leaders get their way, millions of Americans may lose access to essential reproductive health care.

Doerflinger told The National Catholic Register, “I believe the House leadership will fight for [conscience protections from the mandate] in negotiations with the Senate. Where that comes on the priorities list, we can’t say.”

Now that Obama has been reelected, Doerflinger said “we really need relief” from the contraceptive mandate and the bishops’ conference will “be urging Catholics to write to their congressional representatives” to demand that relief.

Despite the results of the election, Doerflinger said the fight is far from over.

“We see every reason to continue our efforts in both Congress and the courts and to continue to ask the administration to take a more flexible view of the conscience issues involved.”

Doerflinger and his allies may get a little extra help in their battle – from the Vatican. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the pope’s ambassador to the United States, said this week that the U.S. is threatening religious freedom.

“Evidence is emerging which demonstrates that the threat to religious freedom is not solely a concern for non-democratic and totalitarian regimes,” he said, as reported by the Catholic News Agency. “Unfortunately it is surfacing with greater regularity in what many consider the great democracies of the world.”

Speaking at the University of Notre Dame, Vigano criticized Catholics who supported “a major political party” that has “intrinsic evils among its basic principles.” He added that it is “essential” to pray for a resolution to religious freedom issues, including the contraceptive mandate.

These issues “pose grave threats to the vitality of Catholicism in the United States,” Vigano said.

While Americans United has celebrated the defeat of the Religious Right/Catholic hierarchy’s agenda this fall, we said right after the election results came in that the culture war is far from over. Doerflinger and Vigano’s comments are proof of that.

The Catholic hierarchy is far too invested in fighting the contraceptive mandate to give up now, which is why we see the November election as a victory in the battle against religious conscience exceptions rather than a win in that war.

Just as the Catholic hierarchy will continue the struggle over health care access, Americans United will continue to fight for true religious freedom. We’re pretty heavily invested in this struggle, too.