On Monday, 12 suits were filed in federal court by 43 Catholic institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, Catholic University, and the archdioceses of New York and Washington. The suits are an effort to overturn the Department of Health and Human Service’s mandate for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs under the Affordable Care Act — a regulation that forces Catholic hospitals, universities and charities to act in ways that violate their conscience and the teachings of their church.

“The government … cannot justify its decision to force Notre Dame to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to these services in violation of its sincerely held religious beliefs,” Notre Dame’s lawsuit  argues. “If the government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in such a manner, there is no apparent limit to the government’s power… The First Amendment also prohibits the Government from becoming excessively entangled in religious affairs and from interfering with a religious institution’s internal decisions concerning the organization’s religious structure, ministers, or doctrine. The U.S. Government Mandate tramples all of these rights.”

The University of Notre Dame, is should be said, is not an institution that is naturally hostile to President Obama. After all, it awarded Obama an honorary degree in 2009.

The reason for the Obama administration’s aggressive action against Catholic institutions can be explained by two things. First, the president genuinely believes in what he’s doing. He is a man of the left, through and through, so forcing religious institutions to comply with a progressive law that forces religious institutions to act in ways that conflicts with their religious teaching makes perfect sense. It turns out this is part and parcel of the “transformational” presidency Obama referred to during the 2008 campaign. In this instance, he is interested in transforming civil society by employing against it the raw power of the federal government.

Second, Team Obama must have believed that this would help them in an effort to convince voters the GOP is engaged in a “war on women.”

I suspect what the Obama administration didn’t anticipate, however, was that Catholic institutions not only wouldn’t back down from this offensive; they would actually fight back. And fighting back — intelligently, effectively, and in a unified fashion — they are. This could have significant political implications in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, where the Catholic vote is crucial. And although it’s not garnering much attention, my guess is that when the history of this election is written, the president’s decision to target Catholics/Catholic institutions will be seen as an important moment and one Obama will come to rue.

Mark May 21 on your political calendars.

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