Steven Green, a Christian nationalist activist who owns a nationwide chain of craft stores called Hobby Lobby, is under fire for keeping his stores open in some states during a period when non-essential businesses were expected to shutter.
Green, the founder of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., frequently promotes the idea that the United States was founded to be a “Christian nation.” Hobby Lobby pays for newspaper ads every July 4 putting forth a distorted history of America to argue for a religious founding and undermine church-state separation.
Officials in four states – Colorado, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin – ordered the stores to close, reported The New York Times.
Hobby Lobby executives initially agreed with the shutdown orders, complied with them and closed stores in states with stay-at-home orders. But in late March, some stores began reopening. Officials with the chain argued that their stores serve a critical need and should be allowed to open.
The shutdown orders now in place in the states require most businesses to close, but there are exceptions. Grocery stores, banks, drugstores, hardware stores and other shops deemed “essential” remain open.
In Colorado, state officials ruled that Hobby Lobby stores don’t meet the definition of essential.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Hobby Lobby is not a ‘critical business,’” W. Eric Kuhn, Colorado’s senior assistant state attorney general, wrote in a letter to the chain.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost noted that the craft stores “properly closed its stores during Ohio’s stay-home order” but later reopened them. Yost sent a letter to the chain’s attorney, ordering them to close the stores. Shortly afterward, Hobby Lobby stores in Ohio did close.
Business Insider reported last month that Hobby Lobby stores were open in 14 states. In Wisconsin and Indiana, local law enforcement officials forcibly closed several stores.
“We are being forced to stay open with no type of protection for employees,” an anonymous Hobby Lobby employee in a Texas store said. “We are trying to be a part of the solution for stopping the spread of this deadly virus instead of the problem.”
Based in Oklahoma City, Hobby Lobby has 900 stores in 46 states.