In today’s National Catholic Register, reporter Joan Frawley Desmond talks to John Kennedy, a Grand Rapids-based business owner of Autocam, a company that makes both precision auto parts and medical supplies. Kennedy (who is a board member of the Acton Institute) speaks candidly about his faith, his company’s future and the HHS mandate battle.
The Obama administration has sought to dismiss the merits of HHS lawsuits filed by business owners like Kennedy, arguing that free exercise and statutory religious-freedom protections only apply to individuals, not “corporations.”
While Kennedy and other HHS for-profit plaintiffs have gone to court to obtain a reprieve, Planned Parenthood has framed their legal fight as an effort to stop a threat to women’s reproductive rights. “The bosses want to deny your birth-control coverage,” announced one story on the Planned Parenthood’s website that has sparked editorials and commentary echoing its claim.
But Kennedy contends that his faith is integral to Autocam’s corporate culture and that the country actually needs more business leaders inspired by strong ethical and moral values and guided by Catholic social teaching that affirms the fundamental dignity and rights of every worker.
“I went into this with some trepidation, knowing how it was going to be painted,” he acknowledged.
“But I am more convinced now that we have absolutely done the right thing by standing up for religious freedom.”
So far, Autocam has not fared well with court decisions. However, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case of Hobby Lobby, which could have implications for Autocam.
It is our expectation that if Hobby Lobby prevails, we will too,” said Tom Brejcha, the president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest group that joined with Catholic Vote Legal Defense Fund and a Michigan law firm to petition the Supreme Court to review and reverse the 6th Circuit’s decision.Brejcha also told the Register that the Kennedys “are complying under protest” with the mandate. To do otherwise would trigger massive financial penalties.
Kennedy also discusses his philosophy of integrity in business, and how Autocam treats their workers.
Kennedy says that Autocam’s generous wages — “high-school kids are paid $9 an hour” — and good benefits have allowed him to retain many longtime employees.
He is proud that Autocam has won recognition for its health plan, which offers incentives to help employees give up smoking or lose weight. The program has kept health-related costs “flat for the past seven years.”
“What we said is, ‘Look, we will provide the opportunity for everyone to get health benefits for free.’ Now, 91% of employees pay no premium and are taking advantage of the health-care credits,” he said.
That means Autocam’s “average employee spends $1,700 for health care, and we provide $1,500 of that.”
Kennedy notes that, as a nation, we want ethically-run businesses, yet he is paying a price for trying to do just that. “There is all this talk about the need for businesses to be more ethical, yet the government believes I should park my religious and ethical values at the door of my business.”
Robert Kennedy notes Christian social thought has paid less attention to business than the prevalence of the latter would merit. Professor Kennedy, with experience in the business world and expertise in theology and management, begins to redress this deficiency in this monograph.