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CHICAGO, April 3, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The leaders of a nationwide protest against the HHS mandate forcing religious employers to cover abortifacient drugs and other forms of birth control have said that the demonstrations drew about 63,000 people in 145 cities across America last month.

The March 23 Stand Up for Religious Freedom rallies sprang up across the country as part of a grassroots-driven protest that saw hundreds and even thousands in each city standing, some in pouring rain, in opposition to the rule they say represents an unprecedented attack on religious freedom.

The rallies were supported by dozens of Catholic bishops, including Cardinal Dolan of New York, the president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, who thanked the crowds for their public witness and commended their participation in a letter.

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“Since January 20, when the final HHS Mandate was announced, two things have been abundantly clear: religious freedom is under attack, and we will not cease our struggle to protect it,” he wrote.

The Stand Up for Religious Freedom Coalition reported that, in addition to Cardinal Dolan, 11 other bishops provided statements that were read at one or more rallies, and at least 24 bishops spoke in person at a rally (a list is available here).

Eric Scheidler, a co-director of the Coalition, said on the event’s website that he and his colleague Monica Miller had thought in the beginning that the idea would catch on in 50, maybe 100 cities.

“How little did I know what God had in store for this historic day!” he wrote.

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