With the recent declaration of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and President Barack Obama's accommodation concerning a mandate that would require all citizens to be covered by expanded health care - which would include several religiously objectionable practices - there came a flurry of denunciations.

Several arguments were advanced: "The Catholic Church is against healthcare reform;" "the bishops are behind the times;" "freedom of - and health care for - women should be paramount;" "98 percent of women already use birth control."

Consider a more fundamental question: that of freedom. Prior to any particular governmental Constitution or Bill of Rights, all human persons at their core long to be free and are deserving of this benefit, based on their dignity as human persons.

Look at any two-year-old, 16-year-old or 80-year-old: When our ability to determine our own path to what we deem "ultimately good" is curtailed, we revolt. Our attempt to regain such freedom is a driving force, because every being must act according to its nature.

What is this nature? Philosopher Emmanuel Kant wrote, "There is only one innate right. Freedom (independence from the constraint of another's will), insofar as it is compatible with the freedom of everyone else, in accordance with a universal law, is the one and sole original right that belongs to every human being by virtue of his humanity."

Although this view is not without some fault, it's consonant with the widely-held theory of natural rights of human persons. Both arguments hold that there is some higher authority or universal author to which all can appeal as the guarantor of such rights, including the fundamental right to human freedom.

Known as the natural law or universal law, it is an objective authority that is beyond our time and space, yet remaining influential in both. If this is truly the case, such existence and exercise of freedom is granted and assured to all.

Freedom does not exist in contrast to the law; more often than not, freedom exists and is further guaranteed within the context of societal, human law. While it is a perfection to be free from the compulsion of external force, a person cannot have complete freedom of independence from all human law.

As human persons, we exist as ordered within societies. This is a further demonstration of our nature: We are social beings in communion with other human persons. As such, each maintains and upholds the rights and responsibilities of every other.

The only reason it is good for a person to be free from various restrictions and hindrances is so that he or she may be free for the kind of life a person is meant to live, for the attainment of his or her end.

In the U.S., such freedom for all citizens and corporate religious bodies is already enshrined in the First Amendment. Such freedom is not from religion or for religion, but of religion.

Without condition of profession or creedal-inspired action, without judgment of value or worth of one religion over another - nor lack thereof - the government deemed it most wise to simply allow for the freedom of religious conviction of individuals and bodies as they inhabit and influence this country, governed by informed, sure and certain conscience.

For those of religious conviction, whether individuals or institutions, such a freedom must be maintained in order to further the individual and the common good. Whether one agrees with the further expressions or tenets of a particular religion, one must argue that freedom of human persons to hold religious convictions is essential to our nature as beings.

Freedom of sure, certain and informed conscience must be given the opportunity to freely follow. Only after these fundamental, philosophical principles are clearly accepted can we as a human people dialogue as to the exercise of such "further declarations or tenets."

(Father LeFort is a moral theologian, pastor of St. Mary's parish in Clinton Heights and a teacher at Siena College in Loudonville.)