Hobby Lobby accused of hypocrisy in artifact smuggling scandal

Christian-owned arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby has been accused of hypocrisy after it was ordered to pay $3 million as a fine over its role in an ancient artifact smuggling case.

(WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / DangApricot)Hobby Lobby store in Stow, Ohio. 20 December 2008.

Hobby Lobby president Steve Green started collecting ancient artifacts in 2009 for a huge Bible museum to be opened in Washington. On July 5, the Oklahoma City-based corporation agreed to pay the ordered fine after it was embroiled in the smuggling of ancient clay tablets and other archaeological objects which could have been looted from Iraq, the Chicago Tribune detailed.

For federal prosecutors, the process of acquiring the ancient items concerned lying and possibly stealing, considering that misleading invoices and shipping labels were used in the attempt to slip past U.S. Customs. The cuneiform tablets were tagged as "ceramic tiles" from Turkey or Israel, with the items undervalued and divided into several small batches.

Green admitted that the company "did not fully appreciate" the complex process of acquiring ancient artifacts, and this led them to commit some mistakes which they regretted. However, netizens slammed the Christian-owned company for its selective practice of the Bible's teachings.

One netizen said, "I know Hobby Lobby's big on the Ten Commandments, but how about 'Thou shalt not steal'?"

"Hypocritical cretins," said another commenter. "Preach one thing and practice another."

Speaking to Money Magazine in an interview, Stony Brook University anthropology professor and antiquity expert Elizabeth Stone said people who buy ancient artifacts that are not verified to be legal are "contributing to the smuggling of archaeological sites." Cultural property expert Leila Amineddoleh also pointed out that Hobby Lobby had been warned that the items were possibly looted, and yet the company dismissed that advice.

WilmerHale's international litigation group's chair David Bowker said war-torn countries such as Iraq are "ripe for looting, smuggling and the sales of these illegally obtained objects." Thus, he said one should be very careful not to be a participant in such illicit transactions.