DENVER–House Republicans stepped in Thursday to honor Hercules Industries for its 50 years in business after the Denver city council scrapped its planned commendation, citing the company’s opposition to Obamacare.
The council abruptly cancelled plans to issue a proclamation to the Denver-based manufacturing firm after it won a federal court injunction last month against President Obama’s health-care mandate requiring companies to provide abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptive coverage.
William Newland, who co-owns the company with his brothers and sister, said he received a call Aug. 9 from councilwoman Robin Kneich informing him that the family would not be honored for its economic and civic contributions.
“When the ruling came down from Judge [John] 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 Newland.
Instead, Newland received an almost identical proclamation from Colorado House Speaker Frank McNulty and House Majority Leader Amy Stephens. The ceremony was performed in the House legislative chambers Thursday.
“When Speaker McNulty heard about this, he offered to issue a similar proclamation through the Colorado House Republicans,” said Newland.
The Newlands gained national attention after U.S. District Court Judge John Kane in Denver temporarily halted the Obamacare mandate July 27, saying the order violates the family’s right to run their business in accordance with their Catholic values.
Matt Bowman, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney who represents the Newlands, criticized the Denver city council for what he said amounted to punishing the family for its stance on freedom of religion.
“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 Bowman.
The Newlands have won praise for their interest in restoring historic Denver buildings. The Interior Department listed the 1890 Overland Cotton Mill on the National Register of Historic Places after the Newlands bought it and restored it to its original condition.
Hercules Industries also received a 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Business Social Responsibility Award for its contributions to the Metal of Honor Fund, which assists the needy, including most recently Colorado wildfire victims and firefighters.
The City and County of Denver had been scheduled to approve the proclamation honoring Hercules at its Aug. 13 meeting. A draft had already been prepared, which praises Hercules for, among other things, its “generous employee health care coverage.”
Newland said that the company didn’t seek out the Denver council’s recognition, but that Kneich approached the family in July to arrange for the award marking the company’s 50th anniversary. He said he and Kneich had a lengthy but civil discussion when she called to rescind the honor.
“I told her the proclamation was hers to bestow or withdraw however she saw fit, but we’re going to continue to do business as we see fit, which is to offer health-care packages that exceed the rest of the industry, build our business and provide jobs,” said Newland.
Kneich did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. Elected in May 2011 as one of the council’s two at-large representatives, Kneich was billed at the time as the first openly gay or lesbian member of the Denver city council.
Founded in 1962 by Newland’s father, Hercules is a manufacturer and distributor of wholesale HVAC sheet-metal products and equipment. The company employs about 300 people and its workforce is represented by the Sheet Metal Workers Local Number 9.