Owners of a Blimpie's franchise say they will sell rather than comply with a corporate order to remove six paintings of Jesus Christ from the store's walls.

Holly and Earl Bevans opened the restaurant last year after entering a franchise contract with Astor Restaurant Group, New York, Blimpie's parent company."The paintings are up because we decided to use the right of ownership to avoid things of any negative nature," Holly Bevans said. "We wanted to promote wholesome goodness and beauty of nature."

David L. Siegel, Astor Restaurant Group's executive vice president, said hanging the pictures is a violation of the franchise contract the Bevanses signed and has resulted in complaints from customers who found the displays offensive.

"I know that Salt Lake City is a Christian area. You have Catholics, Jewish and Mormons. I would personally be offended to go into a store like that and see Jesus Christ on the wall," Siegel said.

"This is not a place for a religious issue. Does that mean a Muslim franchise can put in a prayer rug or a Jewish owner can put a star of David on the wall?" he said.

"The compromise on this particular issue is that by taking the pictures down, I am saying that they are offensive. Personally, our integrity is more important. We would rather sell the franchise," said Holly Bevans, a Mormon.

She denied there have been numerous complaints. Several patrons gathered petitions in support of the Bevanses, and others have brought out-of-town relatives in "to show them there is finally something like this in Utah," she said.

"We don't force anyone into our business. It's for those who want to patronize a good, clean environment," she said.

Ron Bagley, vice president of development for Blimpie Utah Franchise Sales, said he has received calls both in favor and against the paintings. Regardless of public comment, the Bevanses must live by the franchise agreement they signed, he said.

Siegel said the Bevanses must comply with their franchise agreement and corporation wishes. "If they don't, we will be more than happy to help find them a buyer."

The family is searching for someone to take over the store.