Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Hobby Lobby Returns Stolen Artifacts

For those of you who haven't been following along, I covered the story of Iraqi artifacts stolen by the owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores last summer. Coincidentally - or perhaps not so much - Hobby Lobby is the same company that argued before the Supreme Court that it had "strong religious convictions" that women should be deprived of health care coverage for contraception. As I noted at the time, apparently those "strong religious convictions" aren't so strong as to preclude the owners of the chain from engaging in the theft of more than three thousand artifacts looted during the fighting in Iraq.

But at least according to this article, the case has a (relatively) happy ending. The stolen artifacts are on their way back to Iraq, which is a good thing for the museums and universities that will see their collections returned. On the down side, Hobby Lobby worked out a settlement in which they admitted no wrongdoing and nobody went to prison.

The dealers working with Hobby Lobby falsely labeled the shipments as "ceramics" and "samples" and illegally shipped them to Hobby Lobby stores and two corporate offices, according to the DOJ.

Hobby Lobby's president last year opened a Bible museum in Washington said to contain some 40,000 biblical artifacts. At the time of its settlement with ICE and DOJ, Hobby Lobby said that it should have exercised more oversight in its acquisitions.

"In 2009, Hobby Lobby began acquiring a variety of historical Bibles and other artifacts. Developing a collection of historically and religiously important books and artifacts about the Bible is consistent with the company's mission and passion for the Bible," it said in the July statement.

"We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled," Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said in the statement. "Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, and with the announcement of today's settlement agreement, is pleased the matter has been resolved."

The DOJ said Hobby Lobby had pledged to set up policies on the buying of cultural property, provide necessary training to its personnel, hire qualified outside customs counsel and customs brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property it buys for eighteen months.

This is one of those cases where it's really too bad that the court doesn't evaluate the sincerity or coherence of religious beliefs, because if it did Hobby Lobby would probably lose its religious exemption in a heartbeat. I expect that it would be pretty difficult for them to argue that their beliefs were sincere enough to deny women basic health coverage, but not sincere enough to keep them from violating one of the Ten Commandments on a massive scale. I know, a test like that would open the door to all kinds of other legal problems for legitimate religious organizations, but still. These folks aren't just thieves, they're sanctimonious thieves.

The age of Donald Trump has made it clear that these folks are only religious when it suits them, and ignore their allegedly sincere beliefs whenever they prove inconvenient. The religious right spent years railing against the Clintons because of their "bad character," made up a bunch of nonsense about Obama being a Muslim because they couldn't find any real dirt on him, and then turned around and fell in line with Trump, a man whose character should be pretty awful by any conservative religious measure. It would be funny if I didn't find Trump himself such a terrible president.

As I've written here before, the whole idea that corporations can have religious beliefs is kind of ridiculous to start with. It's especially true when cases like this make it clear that said religion is just a cover that allows the owners to behave like assholes and even commit crimes that clearly violate its tenets. It seems to me that if we're going to have laws that allow corporations these exemptions anyway, there should be at the very least some sort of test for sincerity based on the organization's performance as a "religious corporate citizen."

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