It appears that Hobby Lobby, the pious purveyor of fundamentalist Christianity and would be denier of basic reproductive healthcare services to women, is also a supporter of cynical Muslims and Zionists in the business of plundering the Middle East. How rich is that? Actually, it’s very rich. Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby, is a collector of early bibles and ancient artifacts. If you have a fortune, why not spend it on something that enriches society? $6.4 Billion ought to be enough to make some real headway. In that light, the Green family who own Hobby Lobby are building a Museum of the Bible in Washington DC. They have been gathering artifacts for it since 2009, and are very proud of their work.
However, their philanthropy looks a little different in light of their recent payment of $3 Million to resolve a civil case brought by the Department of Justice for their recent purchases of artifacts looted from Iraq through a dealer in the United Arab Emirates.
According to Chris Boyett’s article on CNN:
The artifacts, ancient cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates and Israel, Justice officials said. Cuneiform is an ancient system of writing on clay tablets that was used in Mesopotamia, and clay bullae are balls of clay on which seals have been imprinted.
The dealers working with Hobby Lobby falsely labeled the shipments as “ceramics” and “samples” and illegally shipped them to Hobby Lobby stores and two corporate offices, according to the DOJ.
But, there’s a disclaimer at the end which says:
Correction: This story has been edited to make clear that Hobby Lobby received falsely labeled artifacts from a supplier, according to the Department of Justice. The UAE-based dealers involved in the transactions falsely labeled the artifacts as “ceramics” and “samples” and illegally shipped them to Hobby Lobby stores and corporate affiliates in the United States, the DOJ said.
So, although the article says that Green went over to the UAE to inspect the goods before purchasing them for a paltry $1.6 Million, and the family also agreed to return a previous purchase of items that “had red flags all over them”, the illegal purchases of artifacts at bargain basement prices has been excused as inexperience and carelessness. So, it wasn’t the fault of the pious Green family that the shipment of artifacts was falsely labeled and shipped to Hobby Lobby sites around the country. But since the Greens paid for them, it seems likely they designated where they would be shipped to. Who knows, maybe if they had been labeled archaeological artifacts they would have not triggered an investigation.
Moreover, NBC reports:
According to a civil complaint, an expert hired by Hobby Lobby had warned its in-house lawyer that there was a risk the items it wanted to buy had been looted and counseled them to make sure the country of origin was properly labeled on customs forms.
Instead, prosecutors said, the 5,500 artifacts were shipped without proper documentation, with labels that described them simply as “ceramic tiles” or “samples” from Turkey or Israel. The company didn’t pay the dealer who supposedly owned the items, instead wiring $1.6 million in payment to the accounts of seven other individuals.
The Chicago Tribune coverage, at least, reflects the irony of the scenario.
The case suggests at least on the surface that there are limits to Hobby Lobby’s adherence to moral principles, leaving aside the prosecutors’ contradiction of the company’s claim of ignorance.
Hobby Lobby, it will be remembered, scored an important victory over the Obama administration in 2014. That’s when the Supreme Court ruled that, because the family that owned the chain felt so strongly that certain contraceptives violated Christian principles, it should be permitted to shun the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that all health insurance plans provide birth control without deductibles or co-pays.
The decision vastly expanded religious exceptions to general laws, which previously had been granted to genuinely religious organizations or individuals participating in religious rites.
But it’s more than that. Hobby Lobby has paid a fine of $3 Million. On the CNN web page there are a series of videos that constitute what can only be called a Public Service Announcement (PSA) for the Green Family’s ‘Museum of the Bible’ and their collection of antiquities. I’m guessing that the cost of airing a series of PSAs like that on PBS might cost, if not the whole $3 Million, at least half of that. So they are getting a lot of bang for their buck out of this arrest. But even if they got nothing back and had to push this unfortunate series of events into a closet, the amount of the fine would still be chump change for the Greens.
Think of it this way: Given that the family fortune was at $6.4 billion the last time anyone checked and the actual value of the artifacts was $11.8 million, that would be like, say, if I were a millionaire with $1 million in the bank (ha ha – instead of a person who gets $1600 a month from Social Security), and I bought a bunch of diamonds worth $18,495 from a fence for $250. Then when I was caught I would return the these diamonds and a similar previous purchase AND, pay a fine of $600. That would take me down to my last, um, $998, 900. So, that would be a measly 1.% of my fortune. Last year I got a parking ticket that cost me a greater percentage of my income than that – I don’t have a fortune in assets so you’d have to say that it was an infinite percent of my assets. Meanwhile, they still have 40,000 artifacts ready for their museum. Of course, after I paid my ticket, I got to keep my license and my car- although many people who go to jail for personal crimes (like drug abuse) lose their vote – forever.
But I have another question about this whole scenario with the Hobby Lobby people collecting ‘Christian’ artifacts for a ‘Museum of the Bible’. Why are they purchasing cuneiform artifacts from Mesopotamia for a Bible Museum? These artifacts predate the New Testament by a millennium. If they don’t predate what we call the ‘Old Testament’ that is only because the Old Testament is not only the testament of the Hebrews but grounded in the stories of the ancient Mesopotamian peoples. And I have to wonder how they obtained their specifically Christian artifacts because many sites in Syria have been looted by ISIS and Al Nusra, both of whom have operative relationships with Israel, while the Israelis themselves are sitting on the earliest sites of Christianity.
What is stunning in this story is the apologetic manner in which it is reported on CNN, and the way that an article which states that the Green family has committed a crime against the people of Iraq has been turned into an advertisement for their project, for which I am sure they will continue to seek artifacts. The prices that they paid for these artifacts they returned are bargain basement. Private collectors pay far more for paintings and sculptures by well known artists. And what about the people in Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who they purchased them from? They aren’t even named. The fine resulted from a ‘civil’, not a ‘criminal’ case. Where is Interpol on this? Are they active in seeking out those who are stealing from the victims of Western imperialism?
The apology at the end of the article specifically blames the illegality of the packing and labeling on unnamed people in the UAE. But is anyone pursuing the case? How are Israel and Turkey involved? Interesting that these are the same 2 countries involved in smuggling oil out of Syria on behalf of ISIS. What about the people who got the money and the dealer who conspired with Hobby Lobby to launder it? And what is to stop this rat line from being resurrected in a new disguise? When it comes to antiquities, the Middle East is a deep well, and US engineered wars have undermined the ability of countries like Syria and Iraq to protect their heritage. There is no reason to think that a slap on the hand to one player is going to stop the lucrative business of smuggling precious objects from a war zone.