Federal officials are investigating the owners of Hobby Lobby for the illegal importation of stolen religious artifacts that are to be used for a planned Museum of the Bible.
According to authorities, U.S. Customs agents seized between 200 to 300 small clay tablets on their way from Israel to Oklahoma. The tablets are thousands of years old and are inscribed in cuneiform, which is an ancient script from the area surrounding present-day Iraq.
Officials believe the artifacts were destined for the Hobby Lobby compound owned by the Green family, who won the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case to withhold contraception from their employees’ health care benefits.
For the last four years, the Greens have been collecting over 40,000 biblical artifacts to be displayed in a Christian-themed museum which opens in 2017.
“I think seeing the biblical foundations of our nation — for our legislators to see that, that a lot of that was biblical based, that we have religious freedoms today, which are a biblical concept, it can’t hurt being [two blocks from the National Mall], ”Green said.
The president of the proposed museum confirmed the tablets were seized by authorities but, claimed it was a mere error in paperwork.
“There was a shipment and it had improper paperwork—incomplete paperwork that was attached to it,” Summers said, adding that the tablets were merely “held up in customs.”
The tablets were described on their FedEx shipping label as samples of “hand-crafted clay tiles.” While the description may have been technically accurate, the value stated on the shipping order – around $300 — greatly underestimates their actual monetary worth, and obscures their identification as the cultural heritage of Iraq.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFV2WjkAW7o]More than 15,000 of Iraq’s antiquities were stolen from the national museum in Baghdad soon after the U.S.-led invasion more than a decade ago. Roughly 1,000 of the stolen items were returned and only one American has been prosecuted for smuggling since the invasion.
If the Greens are indeed guilty of stealing the Iraqi artifacts, federal officials will likely prosecute the craft store owners, either on criminal or civil charges, and they will be forced to forfeit the stolen tablets and consequently be fined.
The Greens, who successfully bent the federal government to recognize their understanding of moral standards and values, are now finding themselves on the other side of morality by trying to circumvent the U.S. Law.
With Hobby Lobby’s owners net worth close to that of $4.5 billion or so, no fine would make a significant dent in their financial welfare. However, for a company who built their reputation centered on a form of Christian values to be found guilty of stealing, that hypocrisy could hurt more than any financial penalty could.