A web video launched five weeks ago caught the attention of Fox News yesterday, putting a focus back on the fight between the Obama administration and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, among others, over the HHS mandate on contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients.  The ad does not come from the USCCB but from an organization of lay Catholics called Catholics Called to Witness, and uses dramatic production values to underscore a message that while policies on jobs and the economy are negotiable, religious freedom and life are not.  The video already has nearly 300,000 views, and Fr. Jonathan Morris reports that the bishops and the laity remain highly engaged and motivated in making the HHS mandate a big issue in the general election — and not just the mandate, in terms of religious liberty:

I’m genuinely bemused by the Obama administration’s decision on this issue. The USCCB had been an ally in the ObamaCare effort, thanks to a rather generous and utterly mistaken assessment by the bishops of what the White House would do with the power it granted them. The Catholic Church has backed the idea of universal health care in the US for almost a century. The White House could defuse this issue in an instant with a modest expansion of the religious exemption to include church-operated businesses such as hospitals, adoption agencies, clinics, and charities. It would mean a difference of at best half a million people, and it would get the bishops off their back and back on their side for health-insurance reform. Instead, they have stubbornly stuck to their position that HHS can dictate the limits of expression of religious practice, and alienated a key ally with tens of millions of parishioners.

As Fr. Morris says, the bishops plan on talking about this from now until the election, and about at the same pitch as the CC2W ad. In 2008, Obama won the Catholic vote by nine points on his way to a seven-point margin of victory in the national popular vote. He can’t afford to lose that edge, and yet he and Kathleen Sebelius are so far refusing to take a simple and politically painless step to sideline the issue. Amazing.

Here’s the original spot, which runs pretty long for this kind of multimedia argument at over three minutes. Obviously, CC2W spent some significant money on this ad. Obama supporters can claim that this means it’s an Astroturf effort, but the question is why anyone would bother spending that kind of cash and effort on this issue if it didn’t resonate with Catholic voters.