WHEATON, Ill. — Wheaton College, a top evangelical school, is joining a raft of lawsuits challenging the Obama administration mandate that most employers offer health insurance that covers birth control.

The college, based in Wheaton, Ill., filed the federal suit Wednesday in D.C.

Last May, Roman Catholic dioceses, schools, charities and health care agencies filed a dozen federal lawsuits, arguing the requirement violates religious freedom. Among the plaintiffs in those suits are the University of Notre Dame and Catholic University of America.

Health and Human Services adopted the mandate as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. The goal is to improve health care for women and children by allowing women to space their pregnancies.

An exemption generally allowed churches and other houses of worship to opt out, but kept the requirement in place for religiously affiliated nonprofits, including hospitals, colleges and charities.

Many religious leaders across faith traditions argued the exemption was far too narrow, and the Obama administration offered to soften the rule. However, the plaintiffs in the lawsuits said the accommodation doesn’t go far enough.

The requirement includes all birth control approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including the so-called morning-after pill. The pill has no effect if a woman is already pregnant, but many religious conservatives consider it equal to an abortion drug.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm, is representing Wheaton.

A total of 24 lawsuits have been filed challenging the mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The U.S. Department of Justice is supporting Native American inmates in their lawsuit challenging South Dakota’s ban on tobacco in religious ceremonies.

Inmates Blaine Brings Plenty and Clayton Creek in their 2009 federal lawsuit against the South Dakota Department of Corrections contend that a prison policy that bans the use of tobacco during religious ceremonies is discriminatory.

The state said ceremonial tobacco inside the state penitentiary was becoming increasingly abused, and the policy is not overly restrictive because it allows other botanicals to be burned.

The Justice Department, in a brief filed last week, said the state’s position runs contrary to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

“The court should decline this invitation to determine the importance of tobacco use to practitioners of Native American religions,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote.

The South Dakota prison system went tobacco-free in 2000 but made an exception for tobacco used in Native American ceremonies. But officials in October 2009 eliminated that exemption, saying tobacco was being sold or bartered and inmates had been caught separating it from their pipe mixtures and prayer ties.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A church group says in a new federal lawsuit that an Alabama city is illegally restricting it and other religious groups from doing door-to-door solicitations.

The South Central Conference of Seventh-day Adventists is challenging the constitutionality of two Alabaster ordinances. The church claims the ordinances bar it from doing door-to-door solicitations unless they first register and pay license fees.

Church officials say the lawsuit was filed after a member of the church’s Summer Student Missionary Program was ticketed in June by an Alabaster police officer for selling books door-to-door without a city permit.

PORTLAND, Maine — Bishop Richard Malone will continue to lead the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland even after he is officially installed as bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., next month.

The Maine diocese announced Tuesday that Malone’s appointment as apostolic administrator in Portland by Pope Benedict XVI will allow him to continue to lead the church’s fight against the legalization of gay marriage in Maine.

A statewide referendum on same-sex marriage is scheduled for Nov. 6.

Malone will continue to lead Catholics in Maine and western New York until the pope names a new bishop for the Diocese of Portland.

CLEVELAND — Two of the 11 local Roman Catholic churches closed but later spared by the Vatican are back in operation, and reopening dates are set for all but two.

Three churches will reopen this weekend. Four more will reopen between July 25 and Aug 12.

The churches were among 50 closed or merged by the Diocese of Cleveland because of declining congregations, finances and priests. The Vatican sided with parishioners who appealed and said the closings weren’t done properly.

One of the churches without a reopening date is still waiting to be assigned a pastor. The other is the former home of a parish that broke away from the diocese and moved to a commercial building after its church was closed.

Wire reports