Slate is making its coronavirus coverage free for all readers. Subscribe to support our journalism. Start your free trial.
The national arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby has repeatedly disobeyed stay-at-home orders issued in states across the country aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. The emergency orders issued by governors usually allow for a sliver of the business community to remain open because it has been deemed critical or essential, usually including grocery stores and pharmacies and a handful of other retailers depending on the state. State officials in Colorado were the latest to have had enough when the Oklahoma City–based chain reopened its Colorado stores this week, prompting the state attorney general’s office to send a cease-and-desist letter instructing the company to adhere to the Colorado governor’s order issued last Wednesday. “For the avoidance of doubt … Hobby Lobby is not a ‘critical business,’ ” the letter stated.
In Wisconsin, a handful of Milwaukee-area Hobby Lobby outlets were shut down by police Tuesday for failing to adhere to the state’s shelter-in-place order issued last week. “Hobby Lobby properly closed its stores during Ohio’s stay-home order. Now they’re open again—what’s changed?” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost tweeted Wednesday. “Neither the order, nor the seriousness of the health threat, for sure.” In response to a cease-and-desist letter from the Republican state attorney general, the chain eventually agreed Wednesday evening to halt its operations in the state. Hobby Lobby’s practice of disregarding state public safety orders appears to be widespread, having also occurred in North Carolina and Indiana, and part of a companywide effort to evade state closure orders. A March 28 Hobby Lobby memo obtained by Business Insider outlined talking points for store managers on “how to respond and communicate if visited by a local authority that asks why we are open.”
David Green, the founder and head of Hobby Lobby, is a well-known evangelical conservative who waged a successful Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Care Act over its requirement that family-owned corporations pay for coverage that includes contraception. Political conservatives have been slow to accept the seriousness of the looming threat of the coronavirus pandemic, and many evangelicals have outright defied attempts to slow the spread through social distancing by continuing to hold religious services. “While we do not know for certain what the future holds, or how long this disruption will last, we can all rest in knowing that God is in control,” Green wrote in a letter to Hobby Lobby employees last month.