In Hobby Lobby We Don’t Trust: Why Their Independence Day Ad is Full of Distortions and Lies

Since 2008, the Christian-owned chain Hobby Lobby has run full-page ads in newspapers across the country on Independence Day. The ad features quotations from our Founding Fathers and others discussing our country’s “Christian heritage”… and, as you might expect, it takes all sorts of liberties in the process:

Now, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Andrew Seidel and Chuck Roslof have done what Hobby Lobby refuses to do: Tell the truth about what all those people actually meant and, in some cases, said.

The quotes are meant to give the false impression that the U.S. is a Christian nation and that our nation “trusts in God.” But, just like Hobby Lobby’s god, the quotes aren’t very trustworthy. They are wildly inaccurate in some cases.

They have created a beautiful website that picks apart all of the quotations used in the Hobby Lobby ad — they explain how distorted or irrelevant the statements are, what the actual quotations were (in context), and offer links so you can check it all out for yourself.

For example, Hobby Lobby quoted the French observer Achille Murat in 2009 this way:

There is no country in which the people are so religious as in the United States… The great number of religious societies existing in the United States is truly surprising: there are some of them for everything; for instance, societies to distribute the Bible; to distribute tracts; to encourage religious journals; to convert, civilize, educate… to take care of their widows and orphans; to preach, extend, purify, preserve, reform the faith; to build chapels, endow congregations, support seminaries… to establish Sunday schools… to prevent drunkenness, etc.

Achille Murat
French observer of America in 1832

Wow. Sounds pretty praiseworthy… until you realize, as FFRF did, that Murat was an atheist who was criticizing the high level of religiosity in the U.S.

FFRF gives us the full version — as much as they can, anyway — in context (emphasis theirs):

From the pure doctrines of Unitarianism to the gross absurdities of Methodism, all shades may be found here, and every opinion has its partisans, who live in perfect harmony together. Among this variety of religions, everybody may indulge his inclination, change it whenever he pleases, or remain neuter, and follow none. Yet with all this liberty, there is no country in which the people are so religious as in the United States; to the eyes of a foreigner they even appear to be too much so; but that is only apparent as I shall explain to you.

[The ellipsis Hobby Lobby inserted here represents more than 4,250 words—19 pages of text.]

The great number of religious societies existing in the United States is truly surprising: there are some of them for everything; for instance, societies to distribute the Bible; to distribute tracts; to encourage religious journals; to convert, civilize, educate the savages; to marry the preachers, to take care of their widows and orphans; to preach, extend, purify, preserve, reform the faith; to build chapels, endow congregations, support seminaries, catechise and convert sailors, negroes, and loose women; to establish Sunday schools where young ladies teach reading and the catechism to little rogues, male and female; to prevent drunkenness, etc. This last society in particular is very singular, and very much extended. The members engage never to drink any distilled liquor, nor to permit its use in their families; but nothing hinders them from drinking wine. In that they mistake the Creator for a bad chemist.”

Achille Murat
French observer of America in 1832

So… they left a few things out. Like the blatant racism.

But that was 2009! And Murat is no longer in Hobby Lobby’s ads. So they wised up, right?

Of course not.

This past July, their ad featured a line that appears to have been said by George Washington:

“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”

George Washington: Commander-in-Chief in the American Revolution; Signer of the Constitution; First President of the United States

But that wasn’t something Washington just said out of the blue. Hobby Lobby also altered the grammar to be more evangelical-friendly. Here’s the in-context version of the statement:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor – and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

George Washington: Commander-in-Chief in the American Revolution; Signer of the Constitution; First President of the United States

Notice the important differences. Washington capitalized “Nations” as well as “Almighty God.” Washington did not capitalize “His” because he was not referring to the Christian god, or any specific god. The proclamation is clearly not Christian.

Washington issued this proclamation at the behest of Congress on October 3, 1789, two years before the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from making laws respecting religion, was part of our Constitution

And those are just the beginning. FFRF labels the other statements as deliberately altered, out-of-context, misleading, cut short, of questionable historical accuracy, irrelevant, and — in just one case — accurate (but context still matters).

It’s just as comprehensive a smackdown as anyone could deliver.

And I’ll bet Hobby Lobby will ignore it altogether. They’re probably too busy making sure their employees can’t use their insurance to get any birth control to come out with an ad that conveys both accurate words and intentions instead of what they’re using now: Debunk-able revisionist history.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    As a graduate of the revered Hobby Lobby University with a BS in History and a minor in paint by numbers, I see nothing wrong with the fine folks at Hobby Lobby bedazzling history just a little. You see omissions and little white lies are the rhinestones on the boring jumpsuit we call reality.

  • Bitter Lizard

    To be fair, not all evangelical Christians are total liars, which is why so many of them came out to denounce the inaccuracies of Hobby Lobby’s ad campaign over the years. Right?

    • Dean Hiler

      Oh yes…I can think of so many that have…

    • Alencon

      Of course, the silence is actually quite deafening.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Good idea, but putting it on a website is like whispering in a dark corner. The people who most need to see this response never will.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

      Putting it on a website is like putting a well in Texas. The horses are incredibly unlikely to stumble across it on their own, and may not drink even if they encounter it, but digging the well at least gives a destination with an easy water supply for those inclined to try leading horses.

      (That analogy probably could be extended and improved some more.)

  • Ahab

    This is why I don’t shop at Hobby Lobby . . .

  • Amor DeCosmos

    Lying for Jesus? I am shocked I tell you.

  • Blacksheep

    I went to the linked website (very nice) expecting to see misquotes, distortions, and lies. I read it pretty carefully – these are still pretty direct quotes from the people whom they are attributed to. It’s easy to see what their intent of communication was when you read them – even in context.

    Based on the reasoning on the site, I can begin saying, “Wait, that’s not what I meant to say” after saying something unpopular. The smart people here would never let me get away with that.

    • Spuddie

      You are a liar. The article shows how the quotes are far from “direct” and involve huge omissions of context.

      • Blacksheep

        An opinion is not a lie.
        Even with the context, I believe that the quotes say something about the beliefs of the speaker. They are in fact fairly direct, if you look at what was skipped over or condensed.

        The site even gets things wrong – for example its characterization of Franklin’s meaning of “Babel.”

        • Spuddie

          Your opinion is based on ignoring facts presented in front of you. There is nothing honest about your opinion. Your “belief” is based on willful distortions of text for a specific purpose.

          Of course someone quotemining hopes to create a particular image of endorsement for their views through selective editing of past statements. .

    • RobMcCune

      I went to the linked website (very nice) … to see misquotes, distortions, and lies. I read it pretty carefully… . The smart people here would never let me get away with that.

      –Blacksheep

      • Blacksheep

        When meaning is changed it’s a very different thing!

        (funny, but the last line makes no sense in this context).

        • Glasofruix

          So, omitting the general context, manipulate the general meaning of quotes is a OK when you lie for jesus, right?

          • Blacksheep

            You need to read all of the quotes, that’s not the case. It has nothing to do with Jesus. Quotes are condensed all the time in the media, it’s wrong when the meaning is changed.
            Every quote on the poster accurately depicts the intent and meaning that the original speaker put into it. That’s why I disagree with categorizing the statements as “full of distortions and lies”.

            • Spuddie

              Of course it has to do with Jesus. It is about pretending that Christianity has a special status in our country and was endorsed by our government’s originators.

            • Spuddie

              Every quote on the poster depicts distortions and lies.

              -Blacksheep

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Well, they get a B+ for quote mining.

    • RobMcCune

      In order to be a straight A apologist they need the gal to outright lie about it.

  • Blacksheep

    Here’s Benjamin Franklin’s original quote, it pretty much speaks for itself. Sniffing that Hobby capitalized the “H’ in “his” barely changes the intent.

    “I’ve lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth – That God governs in the Affairs of Men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that except the Lord build the House they labor in vain who build it. I firmly believe this, – and I also believe that without his concurring Aid, we shall succeed in this political Building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our Projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a Reproach and Bye word down to future Ages.” – Speech to the Constitutional Convention, June 28, 1787

    • Spuddie

      Actually capitalization changes the intent a lot. (It would not have been done otherwise) It turns the meaning from something generalized to a more personal belief.

      As for your quote, much like Hobby Lobby’s distortion, it is out of context, distorted and from sources of questionable accuracy

      See the links below for the “Benjamin Franklin Prayer Myth”

      http://candst.tripod.com/franklin.htm

      https://www.au.org/church-state/february-2009-church-state/viewpoint/manufactured-myth

      A google search showed you probably copied and pasted from Wallbuilders. They are all over this alleged quote. You failed to include a link to the copy and paste quote because you didn’t want your dishonest quote mining to be discovered so easily. Wallbuilders is David Barton’s site/organization for historical fiction.

      Are you done lying for the Lord?

      • Blacksheep

        Here’s the text from the source that you cite, pretty much the same thing:

        I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

        Mine came from wikiquote. I don’t always copy and past because the format gets funny sometimes. I copy, past, then adjust format to make it work.

        http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin

        And your childish tone aside, not providing a source for a quote does not mean that I am being dishonest.

        In this case your wrong about capitalization, it’s clear contextually that “he” means God. Franklin is quoting scripture with the sparrow bit.

        • Blacksheep

          “you’re”…sorry.

          • Spuddie

            Um, no. I never apologize to people who are giving me a line of BS.

            You missed the part where they rejected Franklin’s proposal, pretty much out of hand. And you are probably lying about getting it originally from wikiquote given your ridiculous defense of obvious quotemining efforts. The quote you used lacked context and was presented in a dishonest manner as my links showed.

            When someone gives a block quote without citation to the site they copied and pasted from, the default is to consider the person is a quotemining liar. Too late for you to recover from that one. In an article about dishonest quotemining, you provided an example for everyone to see.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Excuse me, minor nitpick, it’s “a lot”.

        An Alot is a totally different animal…

        • Spuddie

          Corrected. This is why we have an edit button. =)

    • Taz

      Franklin also said:

      “I wish it (Christianity) were more productive of good works … I mean real good works … not holy-day keeping, sermon-hearing … or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments despised by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity.”
      – Works, Vol. VII, p. 75

      and

      “I cannot conceive otherwise than that He, the Infinite Father, expects or requires no worship or praise from us, but that He is even infinitely above it.” – “Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion”, 1728

      and

      “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”
      - in Poor Richard’s Almanac

      How do these quotes fit in with Hobby Lobby’s message? Similar quotes disapproving of religious orthodoxy can be found for many of the founding fathers. The overall implication of the ad is dishonest.

      • Blacksheep

        Yes – but it does not mean that he didn’t say the other things.

        If a leader makes a well thought out, pretty heavy-duty quote like the ones cited, it counts for something.

        • Blacksheep

          Why did you leave off the next line in the first quote?

          “The worship of God is a Duty;…”

          • C.L. Honeycutt

            Why did you leave off the next several paragraphs, which make clear that said “duty”, the act of prayer, is bemoaned by Franklin as a useless act, almost to the point of his treating it like a vulgarity?

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Sniffing that you don’t understand the massive relevance of whether or not that word is capitalized by such a lettered man is not an argument.

  • Mick

    The target audience (bible believing Christians) won’t even read the text. They will see the words ‘In God We Trust’ and think to themselves, “Now that’s a business we should support. Let’s all go to Hobby Lobby next time we go shopping.”

    And the Hobby Lobby advertising crew are thinking to themselves, “This advertising lark is piss easy.”

    • b s

      “Let’s all go to Hobby Lobby”

      I now have that stupid “Let’s all go to the lobby” song stuck in my head.

  • DesertSun59

    Hobby Lobby is like all the other lying Christian organizations that exist across this nation.

  • allein

    They just opened a Hobby Lobby near me (in what was previously a supermarket; I didn’t expect it to be that big for some reason), and I was up that way on Labor Day so I wandered in out of curiosity. They were getting ready to close so I couldn’t stay long. I did notice that the wall art section had a lot of religious-themed items. I think I’ll stick to Michaels and AC Moore for my occasional crafty shopping needs.

  • Robster

    Didn’t god or the baby jesus mutter something (supposedly) about telling untruths? Pretty sure it’s reported in the bible thingy in the ten commandments section. Surely the shopkeepers at the hobby shoppe are standing by to be smited by their ‘loving’ god/holy spook.


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