Hobby Lobby is unique among retail outlets or, in fact, businesses of any kind. Why? Because billionaire founder David Green, who, according to Forbes, owns 100 percent of this 900-plus store chain (via Hobby Lobby) that sells several billion dollars worth of craft supplies every year, considers his co-owner to be the heavenly head honcho himself. As Green explains his views on company ownership, “If I have anything, it’s because it’s been given … by our Creator … So I have learned to say, ‘Look, this is yours, God. It’s all yours. I’m going to give it to you.”
While the chain, along with its management and employees, has tried to remain true to Green’s strong Christian principles, faith-based enterprises do have their challenges, as Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy would be sure to agree. What’s more, Hobby Lobby can only be as good as its earthly administrators will permit, and unfortunately, the chain has faced a few issues over the years. Some of its problems may be due to bad luck, some to poor decisions, and some just because you can’t please all of the people all of the time, at least not if you want to stay in business.
Hobby Lobby challenged the Affordable Care Act
Hobby Lobby caused a certain amount of controversy when they challenged a federal law obligating the company to provide affordable health care for employees. The reasoning behind the challenge was, the Affordable Care Act contains a contraceptive mandate which would require the company health insurance plan to cover various forms of birth control including medications designed to terminate a pregnancy after conception had taken place. Hobby Lobby, along with a number of other companies owned by those with religious views, interpreted this as the government forcing them to condone abortion.
In 2014, the Supreme Court decided that Hobby Lobby and other corporations were within their rights to refuse to comply with the ACA due to the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. While the ruling didn’t grant those corporations the right to withhold health care coverage or even disallow birth control, it provided an alternate method for contraception delivery that would not directly involve them. Deseret News, revisiting the Hobby Lobby ruling five years later, found that the decision had opened the doors to other religious organizations and individuals asserting claims they felt should be covered under RFRA, such as wedding vendors not wishing to serve same-sex couples. This has posed a dilemma for civil rights activists who on one hand oppose discrimination on grounds of religion, but on the other are also not thrilled about discrimination excused by religion.
Hobby Lobby once refused to sell Jewish holiday items
While Hobby Lobby is a Christian-owned company, the store itself does not describe itself as a vendor of strictly Christian merchandise. Instead, their website describes them as “primarily an arts-and-crafts store but [one that] also includes hobbies, picture framing, jewelry making, fabrics, floral and wedding supplies, cards and party ware, baskets, wearable art, home accents and holiday merchandise.” It’s that last-named item range that caused trouble in 2013 when the Daily Kos ran an article decrying the chain’s failure to sell Hanukkah items. Supposedly a shopper at a New Jersey store was told, “We don’t cater to you people,” and a blogger following up was given the reason, “Because Mr. Green is the owner of the company, he’s a Christian, and those are his values.”
Hobby Lobby management, however, said that they’d never intended to offend. According to Snopes, the company president issued a public apology, and the company began carrying Hanukkah supplies in some of its stores. The Anti-Defamation League accepted that apology, saying that as long as they could be reasonably confident that “decisions on the merchandise [Hobby Lobby stores] carry are based on consumer demand, not out of a lack of respect for other faiths,” they’d be cool knowing that maybe the Hobby Lobbies in South Dakota (a state that, according to World Population Review, has a Jewish population below 1 percent) didn’t devote much floor space to dreidels and menorahs.
Hobby Lobby's China ties create controversy with Christians
Not all Christians agree with Hobby Lobby’s policies. One particularly sore point appears to revolve around how the craft supply chain sources the items it carries. Like many mass merchandisers, a high proportion of Hobby Lobby’s stock is made in China, a country notorious for human rights abuse. As Christian columnist and author Jonathan Merritt wrote in his editorial in The Week, “The most glaring inconsistency between Hobby Lobby’s ethical proclamations and its business decisions concerns the matter of religious liberty … [as it] imports billions of dollars worth of bric-a-brac from a nation that denies 1.35 billion citizens freedom of worship.” And then there is the issue of abortion. Since instituting its one-child policy 40 years ago, it’s estimated there have been more than 330 million abortions in China (via The Huffington Post).
The Christian Post also delved into the same issues, citing Hobby Lobby’s tacit approval (by patronizing China’s factories) as a direct contradiction of their allegedly Christian business model. They quoted Matt Chambers, the Christian director of NGO SafeWorld, who said that if Hobby Lobby was a truly Bible-based company, they “would be extra careful to NEVER do business with the very people who go against everything they claim to fight for as Christians.”
Hobby Lobby bought a stolen ancient artifact
In 2014, Hobby Lobby spent nearly $1.7 million to purchase an ancient tablet upon which was engraved, in cuneiform, a particularly exciting scene from a 3,600-year-old Sumerian epic called The Tale of Gilgamesh. They wanted to display the world’s oldest poem in the company-owned Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., an appropriate inclusion in that The Bible and Interpretation reveals that the Gilgamesh story may have heavily influenced several books of the Bible.
Hobby Lobby ran into trouble with the provenance of the tablet itself, however, along with about 5,500 other ancient Mesopotamian artifacts that all turned out to have been looted from Iraq (via The Vintage News). The other artifacts were returned to the Iraqi government in 2017, and the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet is itself now on the way home. While Hobby Lobby doesn’t begrudge the Iraqis their antiquities, the company is still irked to be out a few million bucks. They are now suing the auction house Christie’s where the items were originally purchased, looking to recoup not only the purchase price but also the cost of the fines and legal fees they’ve had to pay for unwittingly purchasing stolen relics.
Hobby Lobby came back strong after the Covid-19 quarantine
Hobby Lobby were initially reluctant to comply with state-mandated closures due to the pandemic. In fact, one company employee posted on Twitter a letter allegedly from David Green saying that a prophetic dream had indicated told him that the stores should remain open. The dream did warn, though, that there would have to be belt-tightening, much of which seemed to impact the company’s low-level employees. According to International Business Times, Hobby Lobby eventually did close down all of its stores once law enforcement stepped in and compelled them to comply with state laws. What this meant for the hourly employees was furloughs, but the salaried workers were also made to suffer with a 10 percent pay cut covering the months of April and May.
When Hobby Lobby resumed business as (more or less) usual in May, they immediately saw soaring profits, since evidently quite a few people spent the quarantine period dreaming up new craft projects. The chain did decide to share the good fortune with its workers, not only restoring salaries to previous levels, but also reimbursing affected employees for the 10 percent of their wages that they’d lost over that two-month closure period.
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