A clay cuneiform tablet, one of the artifacts that the owners of Hobby Lobby illegally imported into the United States from Iraq. Photo: United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York

Hobby Lobby Forfeits 5,500 Illicit Iraqi Antiquities and Agrees to Pay $3 Million Fine

Hobby Lobby, the privately owned chain of craft stores that won a landmark Supreme Court case in June 2014 by arguing that having to pay for insurance coverage for employees’ contraceptives was against its strict Christian principles, bought millions of dollars worth of smuggled antiquities from Iraq, Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times reports.

According to a civil complaint filed by federal prosecutors in New York on Wednesday, the Oklahoma City–based company bought more than 5,500 artifacts, including tablets, clay talismans, and cylinder seals, from an unnamed dealer for $1.6 million in December 2010, despite being warned by a cultural property law expert that many of the objects were most likely looted and were therefore illegal to purchase and ship to the United States.

Hobby Lobby said in a statement that it purchased the artifacts to honor “the company’s mission and passion for the Bible.” It said that it “did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process,” which resulted in “some regrettable mistakes.”

The complaint requires the crafts-store giant to return all of the artifacts, pay the government $3 million to cover the civil and legal fees accrued by the case, adopt internal polices about importing cultural objects, and to submit quarterly reports to the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn detailing any purchases of antiquities over the next eighteen months. The Justice Department will then decide where all the objects should go.

Hobby Lobby had bought the pieces without ever having met the dealer who owned them. They also agreed to wire money for the antiquities to seven separate personal accounts. Once shipped, all of the items were falsely labeled. The country of origin was listed as Turkey, and all of the packages indicated that the contents within were tiles. The family-owned corporation claims that it intended to loan all of the smuggled antiquities to museums and public institutions.