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A Brief Timeline of Hobby Lobby’s Many Controversies

Exterior of a Hobby Lobby store in Florida

Some controversies I can see coming a mile away: J.K. Rowling just tweeted? Disaster incoming. Others take me by surprise: RuPaul got caught up in a fracking scandal? Where in God’s name did that come from? But some controversies are so massive, so unwieldy, and so entirely unhinged that I struggle to even believe that such depravity could exist.

Hobby Lobby has many controversies.

Hobby Lobby. At first glance, the company seems entirely wholesome. Oh, look! What a cute little arts and crafts store! Maybe the kindly woman behind the counter can supply me with practical knowledge of how to build a birdhouse! Or maybe how to make tiny hats for each bird that lives inside! After all, what could be more innocent, more guileless, and more hygge-inducing than a company solely dedicated to hobbies. Hobbies are about as sweet and non-threatening as you can get! Bird watching! Homes for dolls! Tinkering around the garage! How could a store dedicated to facilitating little acts of joy possibly be evil?

Allow me to rip off your rose-colored glasses, because this story is gonna be a doozy.

A hobby … for evildoing

Over the course of its 50-year history, Hobby Lobby has been embroiled in dozens of controversies. The arts and crafts store is currently led by CEO David Green and his conservative Christian family, who proclaim that the company’s sole mission is “honoring the Lord” and “operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

Do these Biblical principles involve “doing unto others,” “turning the other cheek,” and refraining from “casting stones”? Hardly. The company and its founders are far more interested in the “hate the Jews and the gays” kind of Christian values, and have faced countless claims of antisemitism, homophobia, and failing—nay, refusing—to provide insurance for contraceptives for employees. That last one went all the way to the Supreme Court.

So what are some of Hobby Lobby’s most flagrant misdeeds? Let’s take a look-see.

A brief timeline of Hobby Lobby’s many controversies

In 2011, Hobby Lobby lobbied to push the founders of Feed the Children, a non-profit organization in Oklahoma, out of their own charity. Co-founders Larry and Frances Jones said that the company staged a “hostile takeover” of the organization. The Joneses sued Hobby Lobby for its actions, but the lawsuit was later dropped. Still, who would try to take over a charity?

In 2012, the company ran into hot water again after refusing to provide contraceptives to employees, and sued the government of Oklahoma claiming that the state was forcing them to go against their “religious beliefs”. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, resulting in widespread protests across the country. In her dissenting opinion, Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that the decision to allow Hobby Lobby to deny contraceptive insurance to employees could set a disturbing legal precedent in America, allowing corporations to assert legal rights over individuals. Many feared that the decision would allow corporations to discriminate against non-Christian or queer people based on religious grounds. These fears were not unfounded. After Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court victory, the company decided to one-up themselves by asking for exemption from an Obama administration policy that banned employers from discriminating against job applicants on the basis of their sexuality. Hobby Lobby once again cited “religious beliefs” as the reason to deny LGBTQ+ employment.

Hobby Lobby later proved its own intolerance to religious beliefs when an employee told a Jewish customer that the store “does not cater to your people” when asked about Jewish holiday decorations. Company president David Green later made a formal apology to the Anti-Defamation League, saying that the employee’s comments “do not reflect the feelings of our family or Hobby Lobby.”

Perhaps the most baffling controversy of all came in 2015, when the Federal government investigated Hobby Lobby for smuggling artifacts out of a war-torn Iraq. There’s a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to it! The family smuggled a vast number of artifacts dating back to Biblical times with the intention of displaying them at the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. The artifacts were likely looted from the National Museum of Iraq after America’s invasion of the country in 2003. They were later acquired by dealers from the United Arab Emirates and sold to Hobby Lobby for $1.6 million. Many of these artifacts lacked any evidence for their original ownership, and were possibly acquired through the black market. The shipment of artifacts was seized in New York by customs agents, and the company was fined $3 million dollars and ordered to return all 5,500 of them. Yes, Hobby Lobby smuggled over 5,000 artifacts out of a war-ravaged country in order to give them to a museum, which intended to use those artifacts to prove the veracity of the Bible itself. How’s that for religious freedom? A little too free, if you ask me.

To make matters worse, Hobby Lobby was acquiring all of these artifacts in order to donate them and then write off those donations as tax deductions. Essentially, Hobby Lobby’s plan was to be paid by the government to smuggle illegally obtained artifacts out of an active warzone.

And like the trials and tribulations of the Biblical Job, it gets worse. In 2020, Hobby Lobby announced that it would be keeping its brick and mortar locations open at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why? Because David Green claimed that his wife had received a “message from God” that Hobby Lobby’s stores should not be closed. As a result, the company refused to pay sick leave during the pandemic and told managers to “continue working the employees.” The state government later forced Hobby Lobby to close its doors, but they didn’t stay that way for long. The company reopened its doors illegally in several locations, causing fearful employees to speak out. Hobby Lobby then decided to ignore God’s word and shutter its businesses across the country, but not before furloughing all of its employees, leaving many to wonder if God told them not to pay their employees, too?

In September 2020, the company faced a boycott after a “VOTE FOR TRUMP” display appeared in one of its stores. I don’t know who told them to do that, but it sure as hell wasn’t God. It’s ironic that the store would endorse a man who would later pose for a photo while holding the Bible upside down. I suppose in their minds it’s better that he was holding it at all? After all, David Green has gone on record saying that Donald Trump was America’s best choice to maintain “religious freedom.” In an op-ed for USA Today, Green wrote, “Donald Trump has been steadfast in expressing his commitment to uphold the Constitution, and his list of possible Supreme Court nominees inspires confidence that there is hope in my future (…) for a country that will value those most fundamental rights.” Apparently that includes the freedom to loot artifacts from other countries and use them to evangelize people at your fake Bible museum.

So if you ever find yourself in need of arts and craft supplies, please find a better store than Hobby Lobby. After all, that construction paper they sold you might actually turn out to be the lost Gospel of Mary Magdalene. That piece of canvas might turn out to be the shroud of Turin. And those big nails they’ve got behind the counter? Those might have nailed down more than just a few birdhouses. With this company, you never can tell.

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Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels in crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.