John Kennedy vs. Obama
A Grand Rapids small-business owner sues for his religious liberty.

John Kennedy, CEO of Autocam and Autocam Medical


John Kennedy, CEO of Autocam and Autocam Medical in Grand Rapids, Mich., is suing the Department of Health and Human Services over its abortion-drug, sterilization, and contraception mandate. A Catholic, Kennedy has gone to court to protect his religious liberty to refuse to provide insurance coverage for items he believes to be evil. He is not telling anyone what to do with their lives, he is simply seeking to operate his businesses in accord with his conscience, with integrity.

As the spotlight is on two Catholic vice-presidential candidates, Kennedy talks about why anyone should care about the religious-liberty rights of a small businessman in Michigan and how Obama-administration policy is eroding the religious liberty of us all.

: What do auto parts have to do with contraception?

JOHN KENNEDY: The Obama administration is forcing nearly all institutions — from Catholic hospitals to companies like Autocam, which manufactures high-precision components for the automotive and medical-devices industries — to cover the full cost of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. We’re also compelled to sponsor education and counseling related to the same.

These drugs, procedures, and speech acts violate my family’s deeply held beliefs about the sanctity of human life, and under the mandate we would be paying for them directly. Self-insured companies like Autocam and Autocam Medical don’t pay insurance premiums. Each month, we are presented with an invoice from our administrator that specifically names every drug and procedure our employees use, without identifying the employee. Then we write a check as a self-insured employer to cover the cost.

In order to build auto parts, we need employees. My faith’s teachings on social justice compel me to provide good wages and benefits to our employees, which we do. The mandate in the Affordable Care Act now compels me to change my plans and to offer, free of charge, non–medically necessary drugs and procedures that violate my religious beliefs.

: What business of yours is it what your employees do in their personal lives, with their health care?

KENNEDY: I am not trying to prevent access to anything that’s legal in the U.S. today. I don’t tell my employees how to live their lives or how to make decisions about family planning or abortion. In fact, our employees can purchase anything that the IRS defines as a “medical expense” — including a surgical abortion — with pre-tax dollars through their HSAs (health savings accounts). I’m simply trying to ensure that my family does not spend our money in a way that directly supports conduct that violates our deeply held beliefs.

: Does religious freedom really have anything to do with health insurance or business?

KENNEDY: Religious freedom has everything to do with health insurance and business. No one wants those engaged in business to check their moral beliefs at the door of the manufacturing floor or the trading room. Up to this point, health-care regulations have allowed me to design a plan that allows me to live out my commitment to social justice by offering good wages and benefits to my associates. We’ve designed an award-winning plan that promotes employees’ overall health and well-being and minimizes their financial risk. Our employees pay no premium for the plan if they comply with our wellness program, and 91 percent currently do so. We cover 100 percent of the cost of preventive care for employees and their families, and we contribute $1,500 in matching funds towards each employee’s deductible, which is $2,000 for an individual plan and $4,000 for a family plan.

But now the mandate’s attack on religious freedom endangers our ability to offer those benefits. The mandate puts me in an untenable situation because it asks me to choose among three options: (1) violate my conscience, by paying directly for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs; (2) violate my commitment to the Church’s social teaching, by dropping coverage; or (3) continue to offer health care that does not comply with the mandate, and thus face a $24 million per year fine, which would put Autocam’s U.S. operations out of business. I don’t understand why the Obama administration is attacking two manufacturing companies that provide 680 jobs with an average hourly W-2 of $53,000, and are hiring — especially when most of those jobs are in a state like Michigan, where the economy is still recovering from the upheavals in the auto industry.