We took a closer look at Hobby Lobby's biggest controversies over its nearly 50-year history.
The arts-and-crafts store — led by the conservative Christian founder and CEO David Green and his family — has a long history of scandals.
Most recently, this included the DOJ confiscating an ancient tablet from Hobby Lobby that had been smuggled into the US.
David Green is comparing himself to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, claiming he also decided to "give away" his company — not in the name of climate change efforts, but rather to God.
While the Hobby Lobby CEO and founder does not appear to actually be relinquishing ownership of his craft store company, Green wrote in an op-ed on Fox News on Friday that his efforts to "honor God" in operating the chain are similar to those of Chouinard, who recently announced Patagonia will now be owned by a trust and nonprofit fighting the climate crisis.
"From the very beginning our purpose was to honor God in all that we did," he wrote. "We worked hard and God gave the results. As we were blessed by God, we saw it as a great privilege to give back. We've been able to provide hope through supporting ministries and planting churches all over the world."
He continued: "Best of all, when I made the decision to give away my ownership, similar to Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard, it allowed us to sustain our mission and purpose. It gives me a bigger purpose than just making money. Like Chouinard said, "Instead of 'going public,' you could say we're 'going purpose.'"
Since Green first founded Hobby Lobby in Oklahoma in 1972, the billionaire businessman has drawn ire for imbuing his religious beliefs into the company and its 900 stores. Unlike most retail executives, who have a separation of church and state, Green regularly references God in company memos. Hobby Lobby has made a public commitment on its website to "honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles."
Over the years, Green and his evangelical leanings served as the catalyst for a number of disputes, including claims of anti-Semitism, homophobia, and evangelizing in public schools. In its most prominent incident, Hobby Lobby faced scrutiny for its battle against paying for insurance coverage of contraceptives for employees, culminating in a high-profile and divisive Supreme Court case.
We took a closer look at Hobby Lobby's scandals over the years, including accusations of discrimination, illegally smuggling artifacts, and endangering employees during the coronavirus pandemic.
May 2011: Feed the Children owners sue the Green family for ousting the non-profit leaders in a "hostile takeover"
In 2011, the founders of Feed the Children, a non-profit organization in Oklahoma, accused the Green family of pushing them out of their own charity, "alleging interference, defamation and civil conspiracy," according to The Oklahoman.
In a lawsuit filed against the Greens, Larry and Frances Jones said the family staged a "hostile takeover" of the organization, and was behind the termination of Larry, who was fired for hiding microphones in the offices of three executives.
While the Green family attorney told The Oklahoman the suit was "financially motivated and an attempt to tarnish the family's reputation," the Jones family attorney said the Hobby Lobby family had aspirations of taking control of what was then the sixth largest charity in the world.
September 2012: Hobby Lobby files lawsuit against the US government for the right to deny contraceptive coverage to employees
Green was a staunch opponent of the Obamacare mandate that employers provide health insurance that includes birth control and reproductive care. In September 2012, the company filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming the requirement violated its religious rights and beliefs.
"These abortion-causing drugs go against our faith, and our family is now being forced to choose between following the laws of the land that we love or maintaining the religious beliefs that have made our business successful and have supported our family and thousands of our employees and their families," Green wrote in a statement at the time. "We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.
October 2013: Hobby Lobby is slammed with anti-Semitism claims after an employee tells a Jewish customer the store "doesn't cater to your people."
In 2013, Hobby Lobby found itself in hot water after news broke of anti-Semitic remarks made by a store employee in New Jersey. According to reports, when a customer inquired if the store sold decor for Jewish holidays, an employee allegedly responded that Hobby Lobby "does not cater to your people."
In response, founder and CEO David Green issued a formal apology to the Anti-Defamation League, that the company was "investigating this matter and absolutely [does] not tolerate discrimination."
"We sincerely apologize for any employee comments that may have offended anyone, especially our Jewish customers and friends. Comments like these do not reflect the feelings of our family or Hobby Lobby," Green wrote in the apology.
April 2014: Hobby Lobby President Steve Green comes under fire for evangelizing in Oklahoma public schools
As the Supreme Court case was proceeding, outcry arose over a new elective high school course in Mustang, Oklahoma, that used a textbook created by the Museum of the Bible and endorsed by the Hobby Lobby president, Steve Green.
Green had intended for the course to be a way to "expose more children to the Bible by using it to teach archaeology, history, and the arts," The Associated Press reported. However, questions and concerns arose over possible intentions to proselytize students.
The Associated Press later obtained emails that found the school board met privately with Green to discuss the addition of the course, in an effort "to get around an Oklahoma law that requires government bodies to be open to the public." The school superintendent said the clandestine meeting — which was held on the same day the board approved the course for the fall — was held "at the direction of Green and his public relations representatives."
June 2014: In 5-4 ruling, Supreme Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby's right to withhold insurance coverage of contraception from employees
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby's right to withhold reproductive benefits, determining that private companies were allowed to be exempt from the law on the basis of religious preferences. The ruling led to widespread protests and rallies around the country.
July 2014: On the heels of the Hobby Lobby ruling, faith leaders send a letter to the White House urging to be exempt from laws prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination
Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, religious group leaders banded together to send a letter to the White House calling for an exemption from Obama Administration policies that prevented discrimination on the basis of sexuality. Using the decision and the precedent from the Hobby Lobby case as its catalyst, the group urged autonomy in hiring and operation decisions.
"While the nation has undergone incredible social and legal change over the last decade, we still live in a nation with different beliefs about sexuality. We must find a way to respect diversity of opinion," said the letter.
Further reports have found that David Green is a massive donor to the National Christian Foundation, a non-profit religious organization that includes anti-LGBTQ efforts as part of its platform.
July 2017: Federal prosecutors find Hobby Lobby guilty of smuggling 5,500 biblical artifacts from Iraq
In 2017, federal prosecutors found that Hobby Lobby illegally smuggled rare and stolen artifacts to the US by shipping the items to its Oklahoma City headquarters in boxes labeled as ceramic tile samples. The Green family first started collecting the biblical antiques in 2009, despite warnings from a property law expert contracted by Hobby Lobby at the time.
According to The New York Times, the expert "warned company executives that the artifacts might have been looted from historical sites in Iraq, and that failing to determine their heritage could break the law."
Still, the Greens persisted, and at one point, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green traveled to the United Arab Emirates to examine rare Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets. In December 2010, the Greens purchased the 5,500 artifacts for $1.6 billion, the New York Times reported.
The court ultimately demanded that Hobby Lobby return the artifacts and pay a fine of $3 million.
November 2017: The Green family opens the Museum of the Bible, which "skeptics call a Christian ministry disguised as a museum"
Despite the smuggling controversy just a few months prior, the Greens still managed to open the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., seven years after the family had established it as a non-profit organization. Located near the Capitol Building, the 430,000-square-foot building cost $500 million to build and was designed to display the family's extensive collection of biblical artifacts.
According to The Associated Press, Steve Green said at the time the museum is "meant to educate, not evangelize," however critics expressed concern that the building was a vehicle for promoting the family's religious beliefs.
"There's a public face to this Bible engagement rhetoric and then there's a private aspect of what it really means," John Fea, a historian at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, told The Associated Press. "It debunks the whole notion that this is just a history museum."
The museum subsequently faced further backlash for its use of the Confederate Flag and pro-slavery imagery in exhibits about the Bible's role in the Civil War.
October 2018: Museum of the Bible confirms some of its Dead Sea Scroll fragments are fake
Shortly after the it opened, the Museum of the Bible admitted that third-party tests had confirmed its Dead Sea Scroll artifacts were in fact forgeries. The items were subsequently removed from the museum.
March 2020: A follow-up report finds that the entirety of the Dead Sea Scroll collection at the Museum of the Bible was actually forged
Less than two years after the Museum of the Bible removed fragments it had falsely claimed to be Dead Sea Scrolls, researchers subsequently found that all 16 pieces — including those that remained on display — were modern forgeries.
As first reported by National Geographic, David Green purchased the 16 fragments between 2009 and 2014, 7 of which were purchased from a Bethlehem antiquities dealer, while the rest hailed from a handful of different sellers.
"Green and museum officials have long maintained that they received poor advice at the time of the purchases and that they assembled their collection in good faith," wrote National Geographic's Michael Greshko.
March 2020: The Green family announces it will return another 11,500 antiquities to Iraq
That same month — and three years after its first brush with authorities regarding the illegal collection of biblical artifacts — Steve Green announced the Museum of the Bible was repatriating an additional 11,500 pieces to Iraq and Egypt.
"One area where I fell short was not appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items I purchased. "I knew little about the world of collecting," Green told the Wall Street Journal, referring to his initial foray in antique collection in 2009.
March 2020: Hobby Lobby leaves its doors open during the coronavirus outbreak, claiming it was destined to do so based on a message from God
As a vast majority of American retailers temporarily closed their doors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in March 2020, Hobby Lobby drew ire for its decision to stay open using the argument that it was an essential retailer. At the time, David Green reportedly told employees that he had decided to leave the stores open based on a message from God bestowed upon his wife, Deborah Green.
Later, leaked memos obtained by Business Insider revealed that the company refused to pay for coronavirus sick leave, and told managers to "make every effort to continue working the employees," despite growing concerns from fearful staffers.
April 2020: Hobby Lobby defies state mandates and illegally reopens stores that were forced to close by state officials
Though Hobby Lobby eventually had to acquiesce to state orders and temporarily close stores in select regions, that didn't stop it from quietly and illegally re-opening several locations, prompting frightened employees to speak out against the company.
"This has all been so stressful and exhausting," a Hobby Lobby employee told Business Insider at the time. "I don't want to stay home because I'm too lazy to work. I want to stay home to do my part to stop the spread of the virus."
April 2020: Hobby Lobby announces it closing all stores and furloughing employees
On the heels of mounting criticism regarding putting employees in danger during the pandemic, Hobby Lobby officially announced that it would temporarily close all its stores and furlough employees. Still, for some employees it was too little, too late.
"The line our manager gave us [from corporate] was, 'The employees got what the employees wanted; the stores were closed,'" a Hobby Lobby employee said in an interview with Business Insider after he learned of the furloughs.
"My question was, 'Did God tell them they needed to close the stores and not pay us?'"
September 2020: Customers call for boycott over a store display urging customers to 'Vote Trump'
On September 7, consumers called for a boycott of Hobby Lobby in response to a viral photo depicting a display of decorative letters at a Hobby Lobby arranged to read "USA Vote Trump."
Kari Brekke, the author of the tweet, told Business Insider that she took the image from a public post shared in a national Facebook group, and did not have further information on who arranged the display and where the photo was taken. Some Twitter users noted that the letters could have been moved by a customer rather than employee.
Still, the photo moved many to denounce the company publicly. "I'm not a fan of Hobby Lobby. I would never shop there," Brekke told Business Insider. "I'm a Democrat. I hate the company."
July 2020: DOJ seizes an ancient artifact from Hobby Lobby
In July, 2021, the DOJ announced that it had recovered a portion of the epic of Gilgamesh from its place on display at the Museum of the Bible, which is owned by Hobby Lobby.
The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, which is one of the oldest works of literature, was smuggled into the US and sold to Hobby Lobby by an antiquities dealer. The tablet is 6 inches by 5 inches and is written in Akkadian, an ancient Mesopotamian language.
Hobby Lobby consented to the forfeiture of the ancient tablet because it was illegally imported into the US.
"This forfeiture represents an important milestone on the path to returning this rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to its country of origin," Acting US Attorney Kasulis said in a statement. "This Office is committed to combating the black-market sale of cultural property and the smuggling of looted artifacts."
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