Wholly Holy Hobby Lobby – taking its demand to impose its beliefs upon its employees all the way to the Supreme Court — paid for full-page ads in the Independence Day editions of the OKC and Lawton papers touting its desire for an American Theocracy, where the values of good folks like themselves could keep the rest of us in line.
Per usual of its type, the ad was a compendium of cherry-picked, out-of-context misinformation that misrepresents our Founding Fathers and our heritage. The very next day the story broke that Oklahoma’s most vocal alleged Christians had agreed to pay a $3 million fine for smuggling 5,500 looted Iraqi antiquities into the country.
With the stolen material earmarked for a museum in D.C., the story made national news. Somehow, the OKC-based sponsors of a full-page ad in the OKC paper rated only Page 4 in Section C and didn’t make the Lawton paper until the next day.
From all appearances, the Lawton version was the Associated Press version of the story Paul Monies wrote for The Oklahoman. The Lawton story, too, was also Buried Inside, which happens to be the title of the unpublished and never-performed play I wrote after my first black-balling from the news business. It deals with the difficulties small-town journalists face getting anything into print that might reflect poorly on local bigwigs. Evidently, this is not just a small-town predicament.
The good-old-boy version of the thefts was heavy-laden with Hobby Lobby’s self-serving press release. It managed to get Hobby Lobby President Steve Green quoted as saying the company, “should have exercised more oversight,” and reminded us of what upstanding, Christian folks the Greens are. “Our passion for the Bible continues, and we will do all that we can to support the efforts to conserve items that will help illuminate and enhance our understanding of this Great Book,” Green said. Monies – who has one of the best names ever for a business writer – didn’t contact any local archaeologists about the looted treasures. Either that or his efforts were lost in editing.
Other news organization were more enterprising.
Archaeologist Amr Al-Azm, of Shawnee State University, told CBS that Hobby Lobby escaped with a slap on the wrist: “It was a civil case, which is quite shocking considering the amount of material that was basically looted….The fact is very clear that they knew what they were doing.” And, if you’re talking about looting Iraqi antiquities, we know who the looters were. “When you’re buying looted antiquities,” Al-Azm said, “particularly from a war zone like Iraq or Syria, you are most likely aiding, abetting or allowing funds to reach terrorist organizations like ISIS or al-Qaeda.” This led some unsympathetic tweeters to challenge Hobby Lobby to identify the truck bombs it had funded or maybe volunteer some reparations for the victims.
Bob Murowchick at Boston University, citing the warning Hobby Lobby had received from its own expert, expressed his doubts to ABC on the company’s claims that it didn’t know what it was doing. “It’s like the scene in ‘Casablanca’: ‘I am shocked, shocked that there is gambling going on here,’” Murowchick said. Ancient cuneiform tablets from the Cradle of Civilization were labeled “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (samples).” Three hundred such “samples” were valued at $1 each instead of the $84,000 that better represented their value.
The Oklahoman account revealed that, “A dealer based in the United Arab Emirates shipped packages containing the artifacts to three different corporate addresses in Oklahoma City.” Various shipping manifests claimed that the stolen antiquities originated in Israel or Turkey. The efforts made to disguise the contents of the smuggled goods and spread out delivery destination lends credence to the archaeologists’ dismay at the civil handling of the case. “Our goal is, if we can cut down on the demand or make the punishment severe enough, we will have a chain reaction and people will be unwilling to loot,” Murowchick said.
Worse than burying the original, incomplete story deep within its pages, The Oklahoman came out a week later with an editorial that again ignored the evidence, the likely chain of provenance through terrorists and the outrage of professionals. “Good intentions may have bad results,” they opined, and spun the fiction that their upright advertisers were conducting a salvage operation of sorts. They cited several unrelated cases while ignoring that their own examples showed it is the terrorists doing the looting and destruction; that the acquisition of 5,500 relics probably put dollars into the pockets of those trying to destroy us – crusading Christians especially. The kicker on the editorial proclaimed, “Policy changes worth considering.”
I’m thinking more along the lines of, “Black marketers deserve their black eye.”
The lies on Holy Lobby’s shipping manifests reflect those on the full-page ads that seem to buy them such positive local coverage.
Writing in Wall of Separation for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Rob Boston says, “the ad’s purpose is to imply that Christianity once had a prominent place in American law and government but was forced out by the mean old courts. Identifying the source of the misinformation as David Barton, “the Religious Right’s favorite pseudo-historian,” Boston adds, “It would take a small book to dissect the entire ad.”
Boston chose not to write the small book, and I will cite only two of his examples. The opening italics are his: “The ad claims that the Supreme Court struck down ‘voluntary prayer in schools’ in 1962 without using any precedent. First off, there was nothing voluntary about those prayers. In many parts of the country, youngsters were compelled to take part. Moreover, Hobby Lobby’s assertion that the 1962 case, Engel v. Vitale, does not cite precedence is simply wrong, as anyone who takes the time to read it can see. “The ad distorts James Madison’s views on separation of church and state. By wrenching a quote from context, the ad does a great disservice to James Madison, a primary author of the First Amendment and the Father of the Constitution. Ironically, the quote in question comes from Madison’s 1785 Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, one of the most powerful defenses of church-state separation ever written. No one who gives that document an honest read could walk away from it believing that Madison favored any form of church-state union.”
Quoting an Independence Day quote of his own, Boston remarks, “the ‘Christian Nation’ thesis collapses because our Constitution nowhere says that the country is officially Christian. Instead, its First Amendment protects the exercise of all faiths and bars government from establishing any.”
Ironically, while searching for exact quotes from the experts, I ran across the book release information from Holy Hobby Lobby Founder and CEO David Green about the values that govern his business.
No need to read the book; his values are on display.
(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair.)