Hobby Lobby claims to be “the largest privately owned arts and crafts retailer in the world with approximately 32,000 employees and operating in 47 states.” Their website says that they are committed to: “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”
Part of those principles include denying health insurance coverage to their employees for certain contraceptives. Under the Affordable Care Act, large employers were required to provide coverage for the 20 forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The owners of Hobby Lobby objected to four forms of contraception, including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and morning after pills, claiming that those were abortifacients that block a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
In this regard, Hobby Lobby simply gets the science wrong on fertilization. Speaking about emergency contraception, Dr. Petra Casey, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Mayo Clinic explained: “These medications are there to prevent or delay ovulation. They don’t act after fertilization.” To further weaken Hobby Lobby’s case, hormonal IUDs thicken cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg, meaning fertilization never occurs.
Despite the scientific fallacy of Hobby Lobby’s position, in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. ET AL., the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Hobby Lobby’s favor. In doing so, the court ignored all past precedent and ruled for the first time that for-profit corporations may assert religious freedom rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The majority opinion framed the issue this way: “We must decide in these cases whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) permits the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to demand that three closely held corporations provide health insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners. We hold that the regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest …”
The dissent written by Justice Ginsburg focused on the employees’ rights: “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would override significant interests of the corporations’ employees and covered dependents. It would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure. See Catholic Charities of Sacramento, Inc. v. Superior Court…(2004) (‘We are unaware of any decision in which … (the U.S. Supreme Court) has exempted a religious objector from the operation of a neutral, generally applicable law despite the recognition that the requested exemption would detrimentally affect the rights of third parties.’) In sum, with respect to free exercise claims no less than free speech claims, ‘your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins …’”
Hobby Lobby is owned by the family of David Green and as “The Atlantic” reports, they spend a lot of money advancing their Christian beliefs. “They create films with biblical themes, they own a chain of Christian bookstores, they support the development of a Bible curriculum for schools, they sponsor trips to Israel, they donate to Christian charities. They once spent $70 million to prop up Oral Roberts University when it was struggling.” Their most expensive Christian project is the Museum of the Bible that they are building in Washington D.C. set to open in November. It is eight stories tall and covers 430,000 square feet. It will contain the Green family’s collection of biblical manuscripts, Torah scrolls, Dead Sea Scrolls, and cuneiform texts. Scholars and antiquities experts have raised questions about how the Greens acquired these artifacts.
Since the Gulf War and the breakdown of government institutions, there has been a great increase in the flow of illegally acquired religious antiquities out of the Middle East. A United Nations expert on this subject describes it as a “massive looting of cultural property in the region.”
In one instance, the Greens obtained a Coptic fragment of the New Testament’s Book of Galatians. When it was placed on exhibit at the Vatican, a papyrologist from Manchester University, Robert Mazza, recognized the fragment as the same papyrus that had been offered for sale on eBay in 2012. When Mazza and others asked representatives of the Green family about the ownership history of the piece, they were assured that it was purchased from a “trusted dealer.” This dealer traced the fragment back to a collection housed at the University of Mississippi in the 1950s. As reported in “The Atlantic”: “However, even the director of the Green collection, David Trobisch, said he and a colleague have been unable to locate photographs of the fragment in the University records; we have yet to find any reference to it in an auction catalogue; and nobody has been able to account for its appearance on eBay.”
Just last week, Hobby Lobby agreed to pay a $3 million federal fine and forfeit thousands of ancient Iraqi artifacts smuggled out of the Middle East. In December 2010, Hobby Lobby agreed to buy more than 5,500 artifacts for $1.6 million. A consultant advised Hobby Lobby that the artifacts could be appraised at $11,820,000. The purchase proceeded even after an expert warned Hobby Lobby that the artifacts might have been looted. The expert provided Hobby Lobby with a memorandum saying: “I would regard the acquisition of any artifact likely from Iraq (which could be described as Mesopotamian, Assyrian, Akkadian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Parthian, Sassanian and possibly other historic or cultural terms) as carrying considerable risk. An estimated 200-500,000 objects have been looted from archeological sites in Iraq since the early 1990s; particularly popular on the market and likely to have been looted are cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets.
Any object brought into the US and with Iraq declared as country of origin has a high chance of being detained by U.S. Customs. If such an object has been brought into the US in the past few years and was not stopped by U.S. Customs, then you need to examine the import documents to see if the country declared; an improper declaration of country of origin can also lead to seizure and forfeiture of the object.” The expert went on to warn Hobby Lobby that cultural property looted from Iraq since 1990 is specifically protected by import restrictions that carry criminal penalties and fines.
“Esquire” reports that a dealer in the United Arab Emirates shipped packages containing the artifacts to three different corporate addresses in Oklahoma City. Five shipments that were intercepted by federal customs officials bore shipping labels that falsely declared that the artifacts’ country of origin was Turkey. Another shipment falsely declared that its country of origin was Israel.
It is a mystery as to why Hobby Lobby or members of the Green family were not criminally prosecuted in this matter. Illegally purchasing looted antiquities encourages more looting. Most alarming, much of the proceeds from looting have been used to fund terrorist organizations, such as ISIS. “Such funding is being used to support recruitment efforts and to strengthen operational capability to organize and carry out terrorist attacks,” the UN Security Council recently declared. When U.S. forces assassinated Abu Sayyat, a senior ISIS officer, his Syrian compound contained hundreds of ancient Iraqi artifacts.
Whether any Hobby Lobby money ended up aiding terrorists is an open question. As for the Green family, their lax and possibly conspiratorial actions in acquiring these stolen properties is inexcusable and certainly a strange way of “Honoring the Lord.”