The Obama administration has prohibited the Kennedy family from practicing its Catholicism, and the Kennedys now intend to ask the Supreme Court to restore their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.
Their case could become one of the most consequential in our nation’s history. The issue: Will the most fundamental liberty of all–freedom of conscience–survive in post-Obama America?
John Kennedy serves as president of Autocam and Autocam Medical, Michigan-based companies that produce automobile components and medical devices. He and his family own the companies, which employ 661 people in the United States.
The Kennedys strive to live all parts of their lives–including their business lives–in keeping with their Catholic faith.
“We’re called into different vocations or different occupations,” Kennedy told me in an interview this week, “but we are supposed to respond to that call and try to basically show the teachings of Jesus Christ in everything we do.”
“You have an obligation to treat everyone justly, and, in my mind, you are supposed to treat all people that you come across in life as part of your family,” said Kennedy.
Autocam pays it workers an average of $53,000 per year–which is more than the median national household income–and provides its workers with a generous self-insured health care plan through which it pays out an average of “about $11,000 to $12,000” per employee per year.
Among those annual benefits is $1,500 the company deposits in Health Savings Accounts controlled by the individual workers.
But there is one thing the Kennedys won’t do: Pay for sterilizations, artificial contraceptives or abortions — including abortions induced by drugs. In keeping with Catholic teaching, they believe these things are “intrinsically evil” and that it would be wrong for them to pay for them.
Nonetheless, the Kennedys’ employees retain the right to buy these things with their own money–including with money withdrawn from their Health Savings Accounts.
A year ago, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a “preventive services” regulation under Obamacare. This regulation requires almost all health care plans to cover, without fees or co-pay, sterilizations, artificial contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
The U.S. Catholic bishops unanimously condemned this regulation as a “violation of personal civil rights” and an “illegal and unjust mandate.”
Many Catholic bishops declared: “We cannot–we will not–comply with this unjust law.”
With great moral courage, the Kennedys made a similar determination.
When I interviewed John Kennedy this week, I asked him: “Can your family-owned company, in keeping with the way you have run it in accordance with your Catholic faith, obey that regulation?”
“No,” said Kennedy. “I can’t see how we can do that.”
“So you have no doubt that the Obama administration, through this regulation, is trying to force you to act against your faith?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Kennedy.
“They have essentially prohibited you from doing what you have always tried to do, which is to live your life everywhere and at all times in accord with your Catholic faith?” I asked.
“Correct,” said Kennedy.
“They have essentially prohibited you, as a business owner, as an employer of hundreds of people, from practicing your religion?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
In October of 2012, the Kennedys and Autocam sued Sebelius in U.S. District Court. “Plaintiffs are adherents of the Catholic faith as defined by the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Catholic Church,” said their suit. “These teachings prohibit the Plaintiffs from participating in, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise cooperating in the practice of contraception, including abortifacient contraception and sterilization.”
“Plaintiffs’s sincerely held religious convictions also prevent them from adopting the spurious position that their religious beliefs do not apply when they enter the world of work,” said the suit.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit concluded last month that the Kennedys could not sue to protect themselves from the regulation because: “The decision to comply with the mandate falls on Autocam, not the Kennedys.”
It does not matter that the Kennedys own Autocam. “[W]e agree with the government that Autocam is not a ‘person’ capable of ‘religious exercise,'” said the court.
Thus the administration and this court have declared that the federal government can force Catholics to act against their faith when Catholics have the audacity to create and incorporate a business.
The administration has further declared that individual Catholics must comply with the sterilization-contraceptive-abortifacient regulation when they buy insurance in the Obamacare exchanges. Thus, President Obama–through his HHS–is prohibiting the practice of Catholicism, not just for business owners such as the Kennedys, but also for Americans generally.
The Kennedys intend to take their case to the Supreme Court. But before it gets there, the House of Representatives should comply with the request of the Catholic bishops to attach language to either the must-pass continuing resolution or the must-pass debt-limit bill to protect Americans forever from being ordered by an Obamacare regulation to buy or provide health-insurance coverage in violation of their moral principles or their faith.
If Obama wants to shut down the government or stop the Treasury from borrowing more money until Congress allows him to retain the usurped power to attack the freedom of conscience, let him try it. Then let’s have a national debate about just how un-American and tyrannical Obama’s attack on religious liberty is.