By Sean Gallagher
Catholic News Service
INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — A Catholic family in Madison that owns a vehicle lighting manufacturing company won an important religious liberty victory in a Nov. 8 ruling handed down by a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
Judge Diane Sykes, writing the majority opinion in the 2-1 decision, said that members of the Grote family and Grote Industries, which they own, cannot be compelled to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives to their employees in their company health plan as required under the Affordable Care Act.
The suit challenged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate in the health care law that requires most employers to provide such coverage even if they have moral objections to it.
"We hold that the plaintiffs — the business owners and their companies — may challenge the mandate," Sykes wrote. "We further hold that compelling them to cover these services substantially burdens their religious exercise rights."
The Grotes’ case was combined with a similar suit filed by members of the Korte family of Highland, Ill., who own a contracting company there. Like the Grotes, the Kortes are Catholic and object on moral grounds to the HHS mandate. The mandate does not include conscience protections.
The Grote family originally filed suit Oct. 30, 2012, in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana in New Albany. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker denied the Grotes relief from the mandate in a decision handed down Dec. 27, 2012.
The Grotes then appealed to the 7th Circuit earlier this year, and were granted a preliminary injunction against the mandate Jan. 30. Oral arguments were made before a three-judge panel May 22. The decision of the panel in favor of the Grotes and the Kortes was handed down Nov. 8.
Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, has helped represent the Grote family in their suit.
"We’re very glad that the court recognized that all Americans have religious freedom, including when they try to earn a living in business," Bowman said.
Alliance Defending Freedom, until recently known as the Alliance Defense Fund, is a Christian legal organization founded in 1994 that advocates for the religious liberty of Americans and people around the world.
Bill Grote, chairman of the board of his family’s business, received a phone call around 8:30 p.m. Nov. 8 from a lawyer affiliated with Alliance Defending Freedom who told him of the legal victory.
"He said, ‘You’ve got a big win.’ That was great news to hear," said Grote, a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Madison.
Bill’s son, Dominic Grote, president and chief executive officer of Grote Industries, was also elated at the news. At the same time, he was also realistic.
"It was just a lot of satisfaction. We were excited," Dominic told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. "But it was somewhat guarded also because I fully expect this to move its way up (to the U.S. Supreme Court)."
Currently before the high court are four petitions asking it to review lower court rulings related to the HHS mandate.
Bowman said that the fact that the ruling in the Grote case was handed down during the Supreme Court’s considering of the petitions might persuade the justices to take up one or more of the cases, perhaps including the Grote case.
"The timing of this case adds importance to the issue, and shows that the government is trying to deny religious freedom to people in businesses all over the country," Bowman said. "The U.S. Courts of Appeals are, by and large, not letting the government do that."
Whether the Supreme Court chooses to hear the Grote case in particular, though, Bowman is confident that it will take up one or more cases related to the HHS mandate.
"The same issue is in front of the court in those other three cases," he said. "So the Supreme Court is most likely going to decide by June whether to deny religious freedom to people in most of their daily working lives."
Dominic Grote understands that the legal action taken by his family might have national implications. But he said that he and his relatives did not file their suit to make a name for themselves.
"It really hasn’t sunk in," he said about the importance of his family’s case. "The way that we’ve kind of walked through this whole effort has been low key in terms of how we’ve been communicating about it. We’re standing up for what we believe in, but we’re not at the top of the mountain shouting. That’s just not how we act."
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Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese
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