July 5 (UPI) -- Craft store chain Hobby Lobby must pay $3 million and return a number of historic artifacts related to the Bible that were improperly brought into the United States, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.
The Justice Department announced a settlement with the Oklahoma-based store chain on Wednesday, which says Hobby Lobby began bringing the items into the country, from Iraq, nearly a decade ago. The items included clay bullae and cuneiform tablets.
"These ancient clay artifacts originated in the area of modern-day Iraq and were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates and Israel, contrary to federal law," the Department said in a news release. "The shipping labels on these packages falsely described cuneiform tablets as tile 'samples.'"
As part of the settlement, Hobby Lobby must now pay $3 million and return the items to Iraq.
"We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled," Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said Wednesday. "Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, and with the announcement of today's settlement agreement, is pleased the matter has been resolved."
"Hobby Lobby further agreed to adopt internal policies and procedures governing its importation and purchase of cultural property, provide appropriate training to its personnel, hire qualified outside customs counsel and customs brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property acquisitions for the next eighteen months," the Justice Department added.
Since its founding, the store has incorporated its religious beliefs into its general business vision.
"Developing a collection of historically and religiously important books and artifacts about the Bible is consistent with the Company's mission and passion for the Bible," the company said.
Hobby Lobby's religious practices made headlines in 2012 when the store refused to cover the cost of birth control in its compliance with the Affordable Care Act, which mandated such coverage. The issue went all the way to the Supreme Court, where justices ultimately sided with the craft chain.
"We have accepted responsibility and learned a great deal," Green said of the latest case. "Our entire team is committed to the highest standards for investigating and acquiring these items. 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."