May 17, 2013

Catholic family in Madison challenges HHS mandate

Bill Grote, left, chats on May 13 with Debbie Randall in a Grote Industries factory in Madison. Grote is chairman of the board of the family-owned business. Randall has worked there for more than 30 years. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Bill Grote, left, chats on May 13 with Debbie Randall in a Grote Industries factory in Madison. Grote is chairman of the board of the family-owned business. Randall has worked there for more than 30 years. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

MADISON—Although it’s been in business for more than a century, May 22 will be a significant date in the history of Grote Industries, a family-owned, worldwide manufacturer of vehicle lighting products based in Madison.

On that day, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Chicago will hear arguments in the lawsuit the Grote family filed last October to gain relief from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that forces most employers to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives to their employees in company health plans.

The mandate is a part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often described as Obamacare, that was signed into law in 2010.

The Grote family was granted a preliminary injunction in January. On May 22, however, arguments will be made on the merits of their case that could lead to permanent relief from the mandate.

Although many other Catholic organizations and businesses owned by Catholics and other people opposed in conscience to the mandate have been granted preliminary injunctions, the Grote case will be the first to receive a hearing on the merits of their case.

“This is the court directly under the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which is helping to represent the Grote family in their suit. “So its decision on this religious freedom issue will be a precursor to whether Obamacare can be used against religious freedom across the country.”

(Related: Attorney sees a strong case for religious freedom for Grote family in lawsuit)

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. According to Bowman, it is currently involved in 25 lawsuits that seek to overturn the HHS mandate.

Taking such a high-profile position in a legal action that could have wide-ranging implications is unusual in the 112-year history of Grote Industries.

Over that time, the Grotes have sought to provide a good way of life for their family and their employees, now numbering approximately 1,200 worldwide. They have also tried to help their clients and develop the communities in which their facilities are located.

Although the family has worked hard to achieve this goal and is well known within its small niche in the automotive industry, Grote Industries is generally unknown in society at large.

But Bill Grote, chairman of the board of his family’s business, said that the mandate went too far and that public action in response was needed.

“The intrusion upon the freedom for us to practice our beliefs was too much, such that we said if there is a way to voice loudly that this is wrong, then let’s do it,” said Grote, 74, a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Madison.

The Grote family’s initial request for an injunction was denied by Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana in New Albany.

Bowman will present the arguments in favor of the Grote family on May 22. Also representing the family are Indianapolis attorneys Mike Wilkins and Michael Cork, who are affiliated with Alliance Defending Freedom.

Jay Mercer, attorney for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, filed an amicus brief with the court in favor of the Grote family’s claim.

Grote Industries is one of the largest employers in Madison and the surrounding regions, providing jobs to approximately 800 people.

That relatively large number, however, does not keep Grote leaders distant from workers. As Bill Grote walks through his family’s factory in Madison, employees wave as they drive by on forklifts. Others stop to chat with the man they have worked with for decades.

Grote is concerned, however, that the mandate, if it stays in place and his company does not gain permanent relief, could put the jobs of those employees at risk.

That is because employers that offer health insurance to workers but do not comply with the mandate can be fined severely.

“It would be a disastrous fine,” said Grote. “If you added it up for our situation here, it would run somewhere between $18 to $22 million per year, depending on how many people we have [insured]. That is an onerous penalty and fine. That would destroy this business.”

The Grote family has learned, however, that they are not facing this uncertain future alone. When their lawsuit was made public, individuals, most of whom they had never met, sent notes and e-mails of encouragement.

“I’ve been impressed by the support we’ve gotten locally and nationally,” said Dominic Grote, Bill’s son, who is the company’s president and chief executive officer.

Some of that encouragement has come from employees.

“I’ve had a lot of people out in the plant that just sit there and say, ‘Thank you. You’re standing up for something. People don’t do that anymore in this day and age,’ ” said Mike Grote, Bill’s nephew who manages the Madison facility.

What the family is standing up for in filing their suit is their freedom to allow their faith to inform the way they operate their business, according to Dominic.

“A lot of the values that have been passed down are reflected in the culture of the company,” said Dominic. “You see it. You can feel it. There’s a care that’s there.”

Bill hopes that the legal action that his family is taking might inspire other business owners to make their faith a more conscious part of the way their carry out their work.

“It would be great if the mandate is pushed back and the ruling comes clear that you’re able to practice your faith,” he said. “Those that may be wavering or not have as strong a conviction may feel much more comfortable in weaving their faith into their cultural and business activities.”

Dominic, his brothers and his cousins are the fourth generation of Grotes to be involved in the business. They all have children at home or who are young adults. They hope that this lawsuit will strengthen their children’s Catholic faith.

“This experience has been very good for my kids,” said Dominic, whose five children attend either Pope John XXIII School or Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School, both in Madison. “They’ve gotten some benefit in terms of reaffirming the values and what their religion means to their families by seeing the company stand up and people talk about it.

“They talked about it in their religion class in school, especially when it came out in the papers. The teachers made a big deal about it.”

With the long view of a loving grandfather of 23 grandchildren, Bill hopes the effects of the family’s lawsuit on the next generation will be ongoing well into the future.

“Looking back on this, they could grow to have courage when they’ll need it,” he said. †

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