Sure, with their insistence on meddling with women’s rights, they appear to be good “Christian people,” at least in the eyes of conservative America, but Hobby Lobby’s owners are engaging in some very un-Christianlike behavior, given their standing as “role models” for conservative “morals”. The Daily Beast reports that U.S. Customs agents seized up to 300 small clay tablets shipped from Israel (and originally from Iraq) to the Bible-believing Green family’s address in 2011.
The Beast says that a senior law enforcement official confirmed that the thousands of years-old Middle-Eastern cuneiform tablets were indeed purchased by the Green family for their side business venture, the Museum of the Bible, which allegedly “demonstrates the Bible’s impact on every facet of life throughout the ages—including science, the arts, government, literature and languages.”
The website for the Museum of the Bible, which will open its doors in 2017, notes that “scholars have scoured the world to assemble the more than 40,000 biblical antiquities that today comprise what is known as one of the world’s largest private collections of rare biblical texts and artifacts” — but there’s a problem. If you ask Museum of the Bible president Cary Summers, the issue is simply paperwork. The Beast notes that Summers “made it sound as if the ongoing federal investigation was simply the result of a logistical problem”
“There was a shipment and it had improper paperwork—incomplete paperwork that was attached to it,” Summers told the publication, suggesting that the tablets were just “held up in customs.” But for just being held up in customs, a lot of man-hours were put into investigating the Greens’ illicit acquisitions:
But an individual close to the investigation told us that investigators have accumulated hundreds of hours of interviews, which doesn’t sound like bureaucratic delay—and which also suggests that there is more at stake here than merely a logistical oversight.
An attorney familiar with customs investigations explained that they often center around properly filled-out paperwork. There are two types of customs declarations: informal entry and formal entry. Informal entry is generally for shipments that have a collective monetary value of under $2,500; formal entry is for anything above that. In cases where people are trying to bring something into the country that they shouldn’t, one of the common ways to do so is to undervalue whatever the item is, often by misidentifying it, so that it goes through the expedited informal entry process rather than the more closely scrutinized formal entry.
If someone looking to bring antiquities into the U.S. knows that the artifacts should never have left their country of origin, or lack proper provenance, the only way to get them through customs is to lie: about the country of origin, about the country of export, about the value, about the identity. (This happened recently in the case of a Picasso worth $15 million, which was listed on the customs declaration as a “handicraft” worth $37.)
According to the source, the Greens knowingly lied, describing the tablets on their shipping label as “hand-crafted clay tiles” with an assigned monetary value of around $300. The Green family’s attempt to hide the origin of their smuggled goods, of course, is something Jesus might frown on. Steve Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby, admitted that some of their acquisitions may not have been entirely legal.
“Is it possible that we have some illicit [artifacts]? That’s possible,” Green admitted, though he says that this recent case — the time he got caught — was simply a “misunderstanding” of the law, though the manner in which they were handled, shipped, and labeled suggests a very adept understanding of the law, and how to abuse it. The Greens even met with DePaul University law professor Patty Gerstenblith in 2010 — before these tablets were shipped — to learn how to do due diligence with regard to the sale and purchase of antiquities.
It is unclear what would happen if the Greens are found guilty of illegally importing the artifacts, though Raw Story notes that “More than 1,000 stolen artifacts were returned to Iraq in 2008, after federal officials discovered them in the U.S.” It seems unlikely that anyone will be prosecuted; only one American has been charged for such a crime since the invasion. However, the Green family could be forced to turn over the items.
All in all, with the Christian family’s massive wealth, the threat of having to turn over smuggled items is not an adequate deterrent to keep them from future instances of smuggling. Even if fines were a possibility, it is hard to make a dent in the family’s $4.5 billion fortune. Despite the government’s reticence to prosecute smugglers, this does show that the Green family, like the Duggars, is not the shining example of Christianity conservatives pretend them to be — and, like the Duggars, it won’t matter one bit because all the Greens will need to do is decide God forgives them.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.