Hobby Lobby shot past recognition among the crochet and scrapbooking crowd for arguing that religious freedom excluded it from certain legal requirements, but a new revelation that the company may have had a hand in stealing ancient artifacts from Iraq might have some questioning just how faithful the organization really is to its values.
Hobby Lobby is currently facing a federal investigation for the illicit trafficking of ancient cuneiform tablets in 2011. One such shipment of 200 to 300 items was discovered in Memphis while en route to Oklahoma City via Israel. Since then, the Greens, the owners of Hobby Lobby, have been scrutinized for their role in illegally transporting relics of cultural significance from the Middle East, an officer associated with the case told The Daily Beast.
Hobby Lobby attempted to transport the potentially stolen tablets through U.S. customs by dramatically undervaluing them in order to come under the $2,500 threshold for informal entry. By masking the origin, Hobby Lobby would have been able to slip their future attractions through customs without much notice. While it’s possible that the ordeal may have been the case of some notary slip-ups, there’s also evidence that the family consulted a cultural heritage law professor about such procedures in 2010. At the very least, Hobby Lobby knew the basics of how ownership and transport worked for such relics.
“One source familiar with the Hobby Lobby investigation told us that this is precisely what happened in this case: that the tablets were described on their FedEx shipping label as samples of ‘hand-crafted clay tiles.’ This description may have been technically accurate, but the monetary value assigned to them—around $300, we’re told—vastly underestimates their true worth, and, just as important, obscures their identification as the cultural heritage of Iraq.”
The company itself has been fairly mum on the whole event, but an upcoming in-depth story in The Atlantic is due to attract attention to the issue. In response to the coming report on the possibly stolen artifacts, Hobby Lobby CEO Steve Green declined to deny the allegations.
“Is it possible that we have some illicit [artifacts]? That’s possible.”
Hobby Lobby’s allegedly stolen tablets make up a collection that the Greens have been amassing for the Museum of the Bible. Set to launch next year in Washington, D.C., the assemblage of Biblical objects includes nearly six years worth of acquisitions that the Greens have made. According to the museum’s website, it is one of the largest collections of such Christian artifacts in the world. The collection is so renowned that parts of it have toured such major religious centers as Vatican City, Buenos Aires, Havana and Jerusalem.
“Known as the Green Collection, the compilation of around 40,000 objects includes some of the rarest and most significant biblical texts and artifacts ever assembled under one roof. Highlights of the Green Collection include cuneiform tablets dating from the time of Abraham, Dead Sea Scroll fragments, biblical papyri and manuscripts, Torah scrolls, and rare printed Bibles.”
As the probe first began in 2011, Hobby Lobby’s legal trouble was well under way when the craft store first began its lawsuit to avoid paying for birth control under its employee medical care coverage plan. In June 2014, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Hobby Lobby did not have to provide materials that prevented contraception as that would inhibit their freedom to exercise their religion.
While the Green family was adamant that their employees follow their own Christian beliefs, the federal investigation into Hobby Lobby’s stolen artifacts may find that the company violated a commandment of its own doctrine, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.”
[Image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images]