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Here’s where things stand between Sweet Jesus and the Toronto ice cream chain’s newfound legion of social media critics

As the Toronto ice cream chain Sweet Jesus begins to expand into the United States, it’s becoming the target of critics who say its name and branding are blasphemous. Previously popular for its wacky, Instagrammable cones, the growing chain is now the subject of some pretty intense petition action. Here’s where things stand.

A little backstory, please? Sweet Jesus launched as a pop-up inside Home of the Brave on King West in 2014. One year later, it opened as a standalone counter inside La Carnita’s John Street location. The shop’s branding played off of religious iconography, and menu items were given names like Hella Nutella and Red Rapture. A second Sweet Jesus opened in Leslieville, then a third (Yonge and Eg) and a fourth (the Annex). Last October, their parent company Monarchs & Misfits announced plans for as many as 25 new locations over the next 18 months, including a Sweet Jesus inside Baltimore-Washington International Airport (which opened in December) and at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, set to open this summer.

Sweet Jesus isn’t new. Why is this happening now? It seems that the publicity around that the brand’s U.S. expansion is what caught the attention of an American blogger called Activist Mommy. In January, she wrote a post about how Sweet Jesus “blasphemizes Christ” and “fetishizes children” (a lot of the company’s promotional material features young kids—kids do like ice cream, after all). In early March, a Woodstock, Ontario, man named David Cooke launched the first petition via the conservative advocacy site CitizenGo, voicing similar complaints. A second petition on Change.Org (one addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) contends that this is a classic example of the way our society dismisses Christianity. It took until this week for the story to truly go viral, with coverage from BuzzFeed, the Guardian, Eater, The Today Show and others.

So it’s the name these protesters have a problem with? It’s the name, as well as what is being called “anti-Christ” imagery: the upside-down cross in their logo and an angular “S”, which the CitizenGo petition claims “mimics the Nazi symbol for Hitler’s paramilitary organization The SS.” (Alternatively, it just looks like a lightning bolt).

How strong is the resistance? The CitizenGo petition now has over 11,000 signatures, and the debate is raging on Twitter. A Halifax-based priest tweets that he is no longer surprised by religious double standards. Though, another tweeter points out there is an ice cream store called the Dolly Llama in California. Overall, Twitter seems to be divided into two camps: this is horrible beyond belief, or this whole brouhaha ridiculous beyond words. (So, pretty typical for Twitter.)

Sweet Jesus! What does Sweet Jesus say? Co-owners Andrew Richmond and Amin Todai were not available for comment by phone, but in an emailed statement defended their company and its branding, saying they “sincerely do not wish to give offence or show disrespect in any way toward anyone’s personal beliefs.” They also point out that “Sweet Jesus!” is an expression of joy—one they heard a lot in their kitchen during product tasting sessions.

Any chance of a name change? Probably not. In that same statement, Richmond says, “After a lot of thought, we have decided that we will not make a change. 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. We’re just hoping that our customers come away enthusiastic and ready to return.”

Who will emerge victorious? Given Sweet Jesus’s popularity with its target market, we think it’s probably unlikely that the end is nigh. In fact, the boycott has generated a lot of publicity for the brand—just as we transition into ice cream season.

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