“JESUS loves everyone except for you, you c***!”
They are the not-so-touching words of a card sold at the Baylis Street Ishka shop – a national franchise that has courted controversy since the Vietnam War.
But it’s the store’s latest eyebrow-raising “gift” that has sparked condemnation from religious leaders, who say it breaches community standards.
“Free speech is wonderful, but there are limits to it,” Wagga teacher Paul McCormack said, who often publicly expresses his religious beliefs.
“The card is, of course, a lie, but the obscenity of the language is something that is an assault on the basic standards of decency.
“All of us, as a society, should abide by a set of standards in terms of language.
“I think even people with progressive views would not accept this sort of language.”
Ishka defended the sale of the card and said it is one of the store’s best sellers – and shock and awe is what appeals to its customers.
“Essentially, we see Ishka as being part of the arts and crafts industry, and art and craft pushes the boundaries,” Ishka founder Michael Sklovsky said.
“The store is meant to be a bit of an experience ... you can see things that are hideous, humorous, spiritual, all sorts of things – we’re trying to give the same element of surprise you get when you travel around the world.”
Wagga priest Brendan Lee agreed there was a place for black humour, but said appropriate concern for children was needed.
“There is an edgy side to humour, and that is OK, so long as people aren’t offended badly,” he said.
“But you’ve also got to be careful where these things are placed. It all comes down to placement – and who could potentially see it.”
Mr Sklovsky encourages franchisees to place the card high on the rack away from eye-line, but admitted it was hard to please everybody.
“We do have some sensitivity to not having the card displayed in the view of children,” he said.
“And we certainly do want everyone to go to our stores, but in reality there are a few reasons why a proportion of people reject us and a strong body of people who support us.”
Mr McCormack said the card should be pulled.
“Christianity is not a religion that hates anyone,” he said.
“Anyone who tries to propagate that is misleading and distorting Christianity. It’s a bit like saying all Muslims are terrorists, for example.”
Rhonda Palmer, of the Salvation Army, said social values needed to be protected.
“Christianity is freedom,” she said.
“Australia was founded on those values … Christianity is a relationship with God that is free for everybody – and no one is excluded. We should be looking to keep those freedoms.”
Ishka has had a presence in Wagga for less than five years.
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