Most people have probably heard about Hobby Lobby at some point in recent years, whether they usually maintain an interest in arts and crafts stores or not. The retail chain is notoriously run by the severally conservative Green family, who in 2014 took a case to the Supreme Court saying that paying for their employees’ contraception through their company healthcare plans violated their religious rights, and won. This was another addition to the worrying trend where corporations are treated like people with rights instead of entities made up of people with rights, which should be regulated accordingly.
So, why is the company making the news again now? Is it under suspicion of discrimination against queer employees, perhaps, or involved in a faux pas committed on somebody’s Twitter feed?
Nope. Today, it’s theft.
Theft of historical artifacts.
In 2011, a shipment containing two- to three-hundred small clay tablets was seized by U. S. Customs Agents on their way to Oklahoma City. The tablets were seized in Memphis, and were en route from Israel. The tablets were thousands of years old, and inscribed in Cuneiform, the spiky writing system developed by ancient Sumerians in the third millennia B.C.E. And when the shipment was stopped they were headed straight to the Hobby Lobby Corporation compound.
The very publicly Christian company is collecting Biblical antiquities. They want to open a Museum of the Bible (a plan which has a website) in Washington, D. C. in 2017, where they intend to display relevant relics. Only it turns out that at least some of those relics weren’t purchased legally so much as smuggled out of the Middle East under cover of war.
The Green family has been under investigation for illicitly importing these artifacts for four years now, and apparently owns some 40,000 other architectural artifacts. The president of the Museum of the Bible, Cary Summers, has discussed the stolen tablets, when prompted, like the brouhaha is the result of a bureaucratic misunderstanding, and told The Daily Beast that “There was a shipment and it had improper paperwork — incomplete paperwork that was attached to it,” and that the tablets were “held up in customs,” though investigations have involved hundreds of hours of interviews over four years and the so-called hold up is still not resolved. The CEO of Hobby Lobby and patriarch of the Green family, Steve Green, for contrast, has said, “Is it possible that we have some illicit [artifacts]? That’s possible.”
To get them through customs, the ancient artifacts were described as “hand-crafted clay tiles” and reported as valued at about three-hundred dollars. While the first half is accurate in an exact words, spirit-of-the-law kind of way, the second is a boldfaced lie. They were identified in some paperwork as “tile samples”.
Though it’s likely only the Greens and the federal government know much about the exact contents of the ancient tablets at the center of the federal investigation at the moment, they are part of the cultural heritage of the country in which they were uncovered, and were essentially smuggled out of said country while willfully obscuring their identity and value. Whether the Greens have committed similar crimes before to amass the rest of the collection for their planned museum is likewise unknown. That the matter has already been tied up for four years does not bode particularly well, but either way, we can only await the resolution of this matter of immoral dealings in the field of archaeology.