Midday Roundup: Feds investigate Hobby Lobby owners' Bible-times artifacts

by Leigh Jones
Posted 10/29/15, 12:45 pm

Sketchy sale? Federal investigators are researching the origins of several stone tablets purchased by Hobby Lobby’s Green family for the Museum of the Bible, set to open in two years in Washington, D.C. The family is cooperating with the investigation, according to a Hobby Lobby spokesman. Federal officials have focused in recent years on artifacts from the Middle East in an attempt to make sure nothing is being removed illegally from countries whose governments aren’t able to track the antiquities themselves. Two Bible scholars writing for The Daily Beast interviewed Hobby Lobby CEO Steve Green, who acknowledged it was possible some of the artifacts collected for the museum had “dubious provenance.” But the family never knowingly purchased antiquities acquired illegally, he said. Customs officials seized a shipment of clay cuneiform tablets headed from Israel to Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma City headquarters in 2011 over paperwork discrepancies. The shipment was labeled as “hand-crafted clay tiles” valued at only $300, although they were ancient artifacts from Iraq.

Religious liberty defense. A Marine court-martialed for taping a Bible verse to her computer monitor will get a chance to plead her case at the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. The military’s appeals court agreed Wednesday to take the case, which could set an important religious-liberty precedent for military personnel. Monifa Sterling posted a personalized version of Isaiah 54:17 at her work station in May 2013. Her supervisor ordered her to take it down, although other Marines were allowed to keep personal items at their desks. Sterling refused, saying she believed she had a First Amendment right to publicly display the verse. Sterling represented herself in her court-martial hearing, but now is working with one of the foremost lawyers in the nation—Paul Clement, the lawyer who argued and won the Hobby Lobby case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Clement and the legal team at Liberty Institute will argue the lower court should have applied the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to Sterling’s case.

Cleared for trial. An Oklahoma judge ruled Wednesday that a man accused of beheading a co-worker at a food-processing plant is competent to stand trial on first-degree murder charges. Alton Nolen, 31, killed Colleen Hufford, 54, and injured Traci Johnson at a Vaughan Foods plant in south Oklahoma City in September 2014. The case reverberated with religious overtones because Nolen had recently converted to Islam. But Nolen lost his job at the plant the day before and told a psychiatrist who evaluated him that his co-workers had mistreated him and deserved what he did to them. Nolen’s attorneys claimed he was incompetent, had the mental capacity of a 7-year-old, and couldn’t help them prepare his defense. But Judge Lori Walkley noted he graduated from high school, played interscholastic sports, attended college, could socialize with others, worked, undertook religious studies, and lived independently. “The fact that he does not agree with the strategy of his attorneys does not mean he is incompetent,” she wrote in her opinion.

Rights recognition. The European Union has awarded its highest human rights prize to a Saudi blogger jailed for 10 years and sentenced to 100 lashes for writing criticisms of the country’s Islamic clerics. A Saudi court sentenced Raif Badawi in 2012. He received his first 50 lashes, amid widespread condemnation from the West, in January. Saudi Arabia does not permit its citizens to practice any religion other than the strict Wahhabi form of Islam. Atheism is considered a terrorist offense. While officials there might hope Badawi’s harsh sentence quells any other opposition, it will have the opposite effect, predicted the British member of the European Parliament who nominated him for the Sakharov prize. “Saudi Arabia can lock up the man and they can lash him, but they will only strengthen amongst his countrymen the yearning for free speech and debate that he stands for,” Syed Kamall said.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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