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Hobby Lobby to Pay $3 Million for Smuggling Ancient Artifacts

The crafts company has been asked to forfeit thousands of "historically significant manuscripts, antiquities, and other cultural materials" smuggled from Iraq.
Mack Lamoureux
Toronto, CA
July 5, 2017, 11:45pm
Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, and a tablet. Photos via DOJ and the Museum of the Bible

Hobby Lobby, a company most known for loving the Bible a little too much, is in some trouble for smuggling looted ancient artifacts they purchased because of, well, their "passion for the Bible."

According to a Department of Justice press release, Hobby Lobby set out to prove their biblical affection by putting together a collection of Bible-era artifacts. Within these artifacts were "a collection of historically significant manuscripts, antiquities and other cultural materials."

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"These ancient clay artifacts originated in the area of modern-day Iraq and were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, contrary to federal law," reads the press release about the settlement.

Now, because Hobby Lobby was apparently set on acting like the villain in an Indiana Jones movie, they didn't act when, in 2009, a lawyer warned the company "that the acquisition of cultural property likely from Iraq, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, carries a risk that such objects may have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq."

Hobby Lobby apparently ignored this warning and the next year bought 5,500 artifacts for $1.6 million—a purchase described by the DOJ as being " fraught with red flags." The company then shipped the artifacts with improper documentation by listing them as "ceramic tiles" or "samples." Bridget M. Rohde, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said that it is on the collectors for making sure that their purchases are above board.

"If they do not, and shippers use false declarations to try to clandestinely enter property into the United States, this Office and our law enforcement partners will discover the deceit and seize the property," she said.

The company will pay $3,000,000 for the snafu and the DOJ has filed a civil action to have the company for forfeit the artifacts.

This isn't the first time that Hobby Lobby, a company run by an evangelical billionaire family, have been embroiled in a religious controversy. The arts-and-crafts company is perhaps best known for when, in 2014, they won Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The company successfully argued in the US Supreme Court that they didn't have to provide contraception to employees on religious freedom grounds.

In the past the Green family hasn't been shy about their massive collection of ancient artifacts. In 2016, the Atlantic reported that the Green's "collection is one of the largest private collections of such artifacts in the world, comprising some 40,000 objects—many of which, remarkably, were unknown to scholars." The Daily Beast reported, in 2015 that the Green family have been under investigation since 2011 in regards to this or similar looting.

In a statement, the company wrote off the smuggling as a result of them being new to the world of collecting and Steve Green, the company's president, said "the company should have exercised more oversight."

The Green family was planning on opening a museum with their artifacts in November of this year. It is not clear if this settlement will interfere with those plans.

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