Will Catholics vote to re-elect an anti-Catholic president? For President Obama is surely the most openly anti-Catholic candidate for the presidency since Republican James G. Blaine in 1884.

Blaine authored the "Blaine Amendment," a proposed reworking of the religion clauses of the First Amendment that, had it been passed by the Congress and ratified by the states, would have crippled parochial education in the United States.

As it was, many states adopted their own "Blaine amendments," which continue to this day to complicate the growth of private schools, including Catholic schools.

Blaine would have objected that he wasn't anti-Catholic at all, that his mother was Catholic in fact, and that his concern was really just the strengthening of public schools and the maintenance of the separation of church and state.

But his handiwork and its progeny emerged from a vigorous anti-Catholic movement, were quite clearly aimed at Catholics, and injured Catholic institutions, so history doesn't quarrel with the appellation "anti-Catholic" as applied to the "Plumed Knight," as Blaine was named at the GOP's 1876 convention.

From just before that convention to the end of the 19th century, the Republican Party became enmeshed in anti-Catholic rhetoric and politics, just as the Democratic Party has become entangled in that poisonous and poisoning trap in the last quarter-century.

(For a great summary of this period, read "A Mandate for Anti-Catholicism: The Blaine Amendment," by the Rev. Thomas E. Buckley, S.J., from the Sept. 27, 2004, edition of America magazine.)

On Jan. 20, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a new policy that would oblige almost all Catholic institutions in the United States to cover all forms of birth control, including sterilization and the "morning after pill," via their health insurance plans.

The press release that accompanied the new rule didn't mention "Catholics" or "Catholic institutions," but was as obviously aimed at Catholics and their institutions as the Blaine Amendment of long ago.

"This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty," said Obama's HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, a pro-choice absolutist. "I believe this proposal strike the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services."

To begin with: You cannot "balance" the right to free exercise of religion any more than you can "balance" the right of a newspaper to print stories that may injure national security.

You cannot "balance" the right to vote with the desire to save money in a time of extreme fiscal crisis.

You simply cannot indulge in social engineering when the Constitution of the United States declares the rights that you wish to engineer off-limits to the political forces of the day.

A decision this far-reaching, and this hostile to Catholics, could not have emerged from the administration without the president's sign-off, and without high-level review by many senior aides as well as the president. It is Obama's decision, his choice and his legacy.

"We cannot -- we will not -- comply with this unjust law," declared Phoenix Archbishop Thomas Olmsted, one of a chorus of bishops issuing the sharpest letters they ever have and having those letters read from the pulpits on Sundays past.

Letters are just the beginning, as such institutions as Boston College, the University of Notre Dame and Gonzaga University, not to mention scores of other Catholic colleges and universities, thousands of elementary and secondary parochial schools and the hundreds of Catholic institutions such as Catholic hospitals and charities, face the state's demand that they abandon their faith.

Massive civil disobedience is the only response for Catholics of conscience. That and an absolute refusal to vote for the anti-Catholic president overseeing this Kulturkampf.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.