COLLECT THEM ALL
Hey, Hobby Lobby Boss: Thou Shalt Not Steal
So you’re telling me the guy who fought the law to stop providing birth control may be looting cultural treasures from Iraq? Chutzpah!
In their brief to the Supreme Court defending their “right” to deny their employees access to contraception, Hobby Lobby owner David Green and his family asserted (PDF) their principles of “[h]onoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”
Apparently, that doesn’t include “Thou shall not steal.”
According to an exclusive by The Daily Beast’s Candida Moss and Joel Baden, the Green family has been under investigation by the federal government for smuggling antiquities. Moss and Baden report:
A senior law enforcement source with extensive knowledge of antiquities smuggling confirmed that these ancient artifacts had been purchased and were being imported by the deeply-religious owners of the crafting giant, the Green family of Oklahoma City. For the last four years, law enforcement sources tell The Daily Beast, the Greens have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq.
In 2011, a shipment of several hundred clay tablets was seized by U.S. customs agents in Memphis. The tablets, which had been shipped from Israel, were inscribed in cuneiform, the ancient script of Assyria and Babylonia in what is now present-day Iraq. And the tablets were confirmed to be several thousand years old. Yet on the customs filings, the Greens had listed the contents of the shipment as “hand-crafted clay tiles”—which was true, technically, but pretty damn misleading. Moss and Baden draw an analogy to another recent customs scandal in which a Picasso worth $15 million was shipped into the United States with a custom declaration form saying it was a “handicraft.” Again, technically true. But a deception meant to evade the scrutiny of customs officials.
So much for “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
The tablets were supposedly intended to join some 40,000 or so ancient artifacts the Green family owns and will include in the Museum of the Bible, which the family is funding and will open in Washington, D.C., in 2017.
Of course the perverse irony in all of this comes from the fact that the Green family won its historic Hobby Lobby lawsuit in the Supreme Court, establishing that corporations, which are people, too, can have religion and thus claim religious exemptions under the law. And now we have the same family allegedly breaking the law in order to build a religious museum that reflects their values. Hot damn, that’s some audacity.
Recall that in the Hobby Lobby case, the Green family didn’t want its employees to be able to access certain types of contraception under the company’s insurance plan. Prior to filing their suit, Hobby Lobby’s insurance had in fact covered such contraception and the medical and scientific community agrees that those forms of contraception are not equivalent to abortion. But the Greens asserted their personal opinion as fact, attached them to their business and used their supposed “fundamental values” to fundamentally upend the course of corporate jurisprudence and civil rights in America. Perhaps all while they were stealing religious antiquities from Iraq.
What remains unclear is how the Greens came by the antiquities in the first place. Were they outright stolen? Or purchased in the black market, from some shady group? At best, the Greens are taking the cultural heritage of Iraq. At worst, the Greens are wittingly or unwittingly supporting some really bad actors over there.
Personally, I would usually think myself above this sort of finger pointing and eyebrow raising. But the Greens brought this on themselves, not simply by illegally importing antiquities from Iraq but by doing so while promoting themselves as pillars of moral values—and altering the entire legal precedent of the United States to impose their values on others. You know how they say people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones? Well, people who want to use their narrowly construed extremist religious views to deny basic reproductive rights to women shouldn’t flout the most universal of religious principles by stealing and lying.