WASHINGTON -- Demonstrators gathered Friday afternoon on Capitol Hill to oppose the Obama administration's policy to require private health insurance plans to cover contraception as a violation of religious freedom.
The rally was affiliated with more than 100 other demonstrations under the same name taking place across the country. The issue has united multiple faiths, with evangelical, Orthodox Jewish, Roman Catholic and Mormon leaders recently forming networks in every state dedicated to promoting religious liberty, starting with their opposition to the mandate.
Last year, an advisory panel from the Institute of Medicine, which advises the federal government, recommended including birth control on the list of covered services for women. But many faith and political leaders argued that the mandate's exception for religious groups was too narrow.
OBAMA GETS GRIEF FOR SAYING PRIVATE SECTOR 'FINE': President Barack Obama made Mitt Romney's day by declaring "the private sector is doing fine" and opening himself to the accusation that he -- not the rich Republican -- is the one who is out of touch with reality. Obama quickly clarified his remark Friday, but Republicans already had their teeth in it and weren't letting go.
"Is he really that out of touch?" GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney asked as Obama's initial comments ricocheted through the presidential campaign.
Seeking to head off any damage, Obama backpedaled and declared it is "absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine." While there had been some "good momentum" in the private sector, Obama said, public sector growth lagged behind.
HOLDER APPOINTS PROSECUTORS TO LEAD LEAK PROBES: Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday appointed two U.S. attorneys to lead a pair of criminal investigations into possible unauthorized disclosures of classified information, authorizing the two prosecutors to follow all appropriate investigative leads within the executive and legislative branches of government.
Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, will direct separate probes that are already being conducted by the FBI.
"These two highly respected and experienced prosecutors will be directing separate investigations," Holder said in a statement.
FDA DELAYS DECISION ON FIRST DRUG TO PREVENT HIV: Federal health regulators delayed a decision on whether to approve the first pill shown to prevent HIV infection, the drug's manufacturer says.
Gilead Sciences disclosed Friday that the Food and Drug Administration will take three more months to review its application for Truvada, after the company submitted additional materials to the agency earlier this month.
In May, a panel of experts recommended approval of the daily pill for healthy people who are at high risk of contracting HIV, including gay and bisexual men. The vote was nonbinding, though the FDA often follows the group's advice.
UN SEES MASSACRE SITE IN SYRIAN VILLAGE: U.N. observers could smell the stench of burned corpses Friday and saw body parts scattered around a Syrian farming hamlet that was the site of a massacre this week in which nearly 80 men, women and children were reported slain. The scene held evidence of a "horrific crime," a U.N. spokeswoman said.
The observers were finally able to get inside the deserted village of Mazraat al-Qubair after being blocked by government troops and residents. The observers also came under small arms fire Thursday, a day after the slayings were first reported.
In central Damascus, rebels brazenly battled government security forces in the heart of the capital Friday for the first time, witnesses said, and explosions echoed for hours.
MOB ATTACKS WOMEN AT EGYPT ANTI-SEX ASSAULT RALLY: A mob of hundreds of men assaulted women holding a march demanding an end to sexual harassment Friday, with the attackers overwhelming the male guardians and groping and molesting several of the female marchers in Cairo'sTahrir Square.
From the ferocity of the assault, some of the victims said it appeared to have been an organized attempt to drive women out of demonstrations and trample on the pro-democracy protest movement.
The attack follows smaller scale assaults on women this week in Tahrir, the epicenter of the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak to step down last year.
SPAIN'S AILING BANKS THREATEN COUNTRY'S FINANCES: Spain is under rising pressure to find a lifeline for its deeply troubled banks.
Politicians in Europe and investors around the world are worried that the recession-hit country can't come up with the money needed to save its banks without bankrupting the government. Expectations are rising that Spain's leaders will have to seek an international bailout for banks crumbling under the weight of bad real estate loans.
As Spain's leaders struggle for a solution to their banking crisis, the country's borrowing costs have soared close to the level that forced the governments of Greece, Portugal and Ireland to seek financial rescues.
COMPILED BY CRAIG WHITE FROM WIRE REPORTS