DENVER — The Newland family didn’t spend 50 years building a business here for the plaudits, but when a Denver City Council member moved to recognize them with an anniversary proclamation, the clan was flattered.
So it came as a disappointment last week when the Newlands learned that the council decided to cancel the honor, especially when they found out the reason: Their successful legal challenge against the Obama health care reform’s birth control, sterilization and abortion mandates.
“When the ruling came down from Judge Kane’s courtroom, we got a call from the councilwoman, who said that due to the controversial nature of what we were engaged in, it wasn’t appropriate for her to honor us as she’d originally planned,” said William Newland, who co-owns Hercules Industries with his three siblings.
District Judge John Kane granted the company’s request for a temporary injunction July 27 against the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Mr. Kane’s order said the Obama administration’s mandate “disregards religious conscience rights that are enshrined in federal statutory and constitutional law.”
The Justice Department argued that a for-profit business cannot lay claim to a religious belief.
The Newlands run Hercules Industries, which manufactures sheet-metal heating and cooling components, in line with their Catholic faith.
“The fact that the Newlands care about religious freedom shouldn’t disqualify them from being recognized for what has been an incredible level of community support,” said Matt Bowman, the Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer representing Hercules Industries in the lawsuit.
The Newlands, who employ about 300 full-time workers, also have been active in local charities and restoration projects. At one point, they bought and restored a circa-1890 cotton mill in Denver, earning it a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I was pretty excited about being recognized by the City Council, so it was pretty deflating,” said Mr. Newland. “But our purpose, which is to fight for our religious freedoms, is a far greater cause than a proclamation we can hang on a wall. There’s no contest there, as far as we’re concerned.”
As it turned out, the family did receive its proclamation, just not from the Denver City Council.
After learning of the canceled award, Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty and Majority Leader Amy Stephens presented the Newlands with a proclamation Thursday honoring their 50 years of economic and philanthropic service.
“When Speaker McNulty heard about this, he offered to issue a similar proclamation through the Colorado House Republicans,” Mr. Newland said.
A draft of the canceled city proclamation praises Hercules Industries for its contributions to the Denver community and record as a “responsible and respectful employer,” including its “generous employee health care coverage.”
Mr. Newland said he was contacted by Denver City Council member Robin Kneich before the judge’s ruling in July to arrange for the award. The council had been scheduled to present the family with the proclamation at its Aug. 13 meeting.
Ms. Kneich, who was billed as the first gay member of the council when she was elected in May 2011, did not respond to a request for comment. The council is a nonpartisan body.
The Justice Department has 60 days to respond to the judge’s order in the lawsuit. A number of Catholic-based colleges have challenged the health care program’s birth-control mandates, but the Hercules lawsuit was the first filed by a secular company.
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