Christian groups are calling for a boycott of Sweet Jesus ice cream — a Canadian company that established its first and so far only U.S. location at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport — because of what they consider “satanic” branding and advertising.
In addition to the name of the company, which some believe mocks Jesus Christ, detractors take exception to a lightning bolt symbol used in place of the “s” in “Jesus” and the inverted cross used as a “t” in “Sweet” in certain marketing campaigns.
One Change.org petition, titled “Change the name of Sweet Jesus Ice Cream. Remove offensive Antichrist imagery immediately” has received more than 2,200 signatures since it launched on Feb. 4. A similar petition on citizengo.org has received 11,287 signatures.
The local store, which opened in December, has received threatening phone calls, according to an employee reached by phone Thursday afternoon.
"I had one caller ask if we were on the [public] side of security," said the employee, who did not wish to be named out of fear for his safety. "I'm freaking out.”
Officials with the company that manages retail and restaurants for the airport said they were unaware of any threats to the local store.
“No one has reported any employee threats to us. Like everyone at Fraport, we would take any credible threat very seriously,” Brett Kelly, vice president of Fraport USA, wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun. “I’ve spoken to the franchisee, who is exploring the issue with his employee. We will stay involved on the issue and keep our client, the Maryland Aviation Administration, fully informed.”
He added that Sweet Jesus’ BWI store “looks very very different from the photos I’ve seen of the Canadian shops.”
The corporate office of the ice cream company, which has announced plans to expand into Minnesota’s Mall of America, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday. But Sweet Jesus offers an explanation on its website: "Our name was created from the popular phrase that people use as an expression of enjoyment, surprise or disbelief. Our aim is not to offer commentary on anyone’s religion or belief systems, Our own organization is made up of amazing people that represent a wide range of cultural and religious beliefs."
One of the loudest voices in opposition to the brand has been that of the New York City-based Catholic League, a group that calls itself a watchdog agency and defender of the civil rights of Catholics.
The group was alerted to the company two weeks ago, when it received a complaint about the name of the company.
"I said to my staff, ‘Who cares?’ It doesn’t rise to the level of offense,” said Catholic League President Bill Donohue.
It wasn't until Donohue was made aware of the company’s use of the lightning bolt — a symbol Donohue said was used by Hitler’s elite — and the inverted cross — a “mockery of the Cross of Jesus Christ,” Donohue said — that the Catholic League called for a boycott.
“What ticked me off were the satanic symbols," he said. "I'm asking Catholics not to shop there until they removed those symbols."
Donohue said he would end his boycott when Sweet Jesus stops using the symbols.
“The name is not offensive,” Donohue said. “It’s the Satanic symbols. It’s up to them to pull the symbols. We know what it stands for. They know what it stands for. … If they pull the satanic symbols then they are acting in good faith.”