Court rules firms can’t ignore law

2 in Mich. must offer contraception coverage


CINCINNATI — The Obama Administration won a victory Tuesday as a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court rejected religious objections raised by two Michigan corporations to a mandate that they fully cover contraception for female employees.

Autocam Corp. and Autocam Medical, for-profit firms that manufacture goods for the automotive and medical industries, challenged the federal Affordable Care Act rule.

A Roman Catholic family by the name of Kennedy, which holds a controlling interest in the companies, argued that the requirement would force them to choose between the teachings of their church and significant financial harm.

The companies are self-insured and contend they could face tax penalties of as much as $19 million a year for noncompliance. They have 661 employees in the United States.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a decision from U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids rejecting Autocam’s motion for a preliminary injunction. It sent the case back to the lower court with orders to dismiss the challenges.

“Religious liberty is for people, not big business,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “No corporation should ever be able to tell its employees that they can’t have access to contraceptive coverage simply because it offends the boss’ religious views.”

This decision would apply to the 6th Circuit’s entire jurisdiction, including Ohio. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and his Michigan counterpart, Attorney General Bill Schuette, both Republicans, had sided with Autocam.

“While I am disappointed in today’s decision by the 6th Circuit, it is important to note that other courts have agreed with our position that the protections of religious liberty should extend to family-owned businesses operated according to religious principle,” Mr. DeWine said. “Ultimately, I expect that this issue will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The Kennedy family argued that the law would force the corporations to pay for drugs and services for artificial contraception that the church believes is immoral. They argued that the mandate violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2000 and U.S. Constitution protection of free speech.

The court ruled that the Kennedy family cannot use a private, for-profit, secular corporation to assert its own religious views. To rule differently, the court said, would “abandon corporate law doctrine at the point it matters most.”

“The decision to comply with the mandate falls on Autocam, not the Kennedys,” wrote Judge Julia Smith Gibbons.

The court, however, then went on to find that the Kentwood, Mich.-based corporations, Autocam, are not persons who can engage in “religious exercise.”

The court stressed that this decision does not affect challenges that have been made by nonprofit religious organizations to the contraception coverage mandate under what is commonly called “Obamacare.” But such arguments cannot apply to a for-profit, secular corporation, it said.

Judge Gibbons was appointed to the bench in 2002 by Republican President George W. Bush. Also sitting on the panel were Circuit Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, a 2010 Democratic appointee by President Obama, and U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood of Michigan, appointed in 1994 by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.