WASHINGTON (BP) -- Evangelical school Wheaton College has joined the list of religious organizations suing to overturn the Obama administration's abortion/contraceptive mandate, asserting in a new federal suit that the mandate for religious organizations is unconstitutional and "runs roughshod over Wheaton's religious beliefs."

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday (July 18), bringing to 24 the number of suits nationally against a mandate that would require religious organizations to offer their employees insurances plans covering contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs. Those drugs, often called morning-after pills and emergency contraceptives, come under various names, including Plan B and ella.

Illinois-based Wheaton is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which said the suit was filed in partnership with Catholic University, a Washington D.C.-based school which previously filed suit against the mandate in May.

"Wheaton's religious beliefs forbid it from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in or otherwise supporting abortion," the Wheaton suit states. It was filed in federal district court for the District of Columbia. "... The government's Mandate unconstitutionally coerces Wheaton to violate its deeply-held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines and penalties."

The mandate, the suit says, violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The mandate was handed down by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Churches are exempt from the mandate, but many religious organizations -- such as universities and faith-based ministries -- are not. The Obama administration has argued that under the mandate, the insurance company -- and not the religious organization -- would be the one paying for the drugs. But Wheaton, in its suit, rejected such logic. Subsidizing an insurance plan that would "facilitate access" to abortion-causing drugs violates its religious beliefs, even if the drugs themselves are paid for by the insurance company, Wheaton said.

"The government issued an administrative rule ... that runs roughshod over Wheaton's religious beliefs, and the beliefs of millions of other Americans, by forcing it to provide health insurance coverage for abortifacient drugs and related education and counseling," the lawsuit states.

In a statement, Wheaton College President Philip Ryken said the mandate presents a "clear and present threat" to religious liberty.

"Our first president, the abolitionist Jonathan Blanchard, believed it was imperative to act in defense of freedom," Ryken said. "In bringing this suit, we act in defense of freedom again."

Catholic University President John Garvey said, "As the president of the national university of the Catholic Church, I am happy to express solidarity with our evangelical brothers and sisters from Wheaton College as they challenge the HHS mandate. Wheaton's lawsuit is another sign of how troubling many people of faith find the government's efforts to chip away at our first freedom."

Among the other schools that have filed suit against the mandate is Louisiana College, affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention. The Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, is representing the college.

Meanwhile, a federal judge on Tuesday (July 17) tossed out one of the lawsuits against the mandate, ruling the plaintiffs lacked standing. That suit was filed in part by Nebraska and seven other states. The Becket Fund's Kyle Duncan cautioned against putting too much significance into the judge's decision because he did not rule on the merits of the case. Duncan wrote about the decision in a blog post at NationalReview.com.

Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Read the Wheaton suit online at http://bit.ly/OmgRr2. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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