"Mr. Cruise, come out of the closet"

chefThe voice of South Park's Chef, soul singer Isaac Hayes, has quit the show that centers on four foul-mouthed fourth graders. The reason: South Park inappropriately ridicules religion. Say what? Since when?!? Here is a thorough account of the story from Reuters (my past posts dealing with Scientology can be found here and here):

Soul singer Isaac Hayes said on Monday he was quitting his job as the voice of the lusty character "Chef" on the satiric cable TV cartoon "South Park," citing the show's "inappropriate ridicule" of religion.

But series co-creator Matt Stone said the veteran recording artist was upset the show had recently lampooned the Church of Scientology, of which Hayes is an outspoken follower.

"In ten years and over 150 episodes of 'South Park,' Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslim[s], Mormons or Jews," Stone said in a statement issued by the Comedy Central network. "He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show."

He added: "Of course we will release Isaac from his contract, and we wish him well."

In a statement explaining his departure from the show, Hayes, 63, did not mention last fall's episode poking fun at Scientology and some of its celebrity adherents, including actor Tom Cruise.

south park three boysAs blogger Andrew Sullivan joked, the episode "Red-Hot Catholic Love" wasn't enough to drive Hayes from the show. Nor was the show that started it all, "The Spirit of Christmas (Jesus vs. Santa)."

The Scientology episode, which is available at South Park's homepage (for the time being) and through this site, is just as much about making fun of the alleged closeted homosexuality of actor Tom Cruise (who is also a Scientologist), but the plot certainly centers on Stan and his rather unusual experience in the group.

I'm glad Reuters and others have been quick to point out the hypocrisy of Hayes' claiming that his departure was solely based on the show's clear hostility toward religion. They obviously were helped out a bit by Stone's statement, and it will be interesting to see if this story picks up any momentum. No lawsuit has been filed against the show that I know of, largely thanks to American judicial precedent that allows liberal use of satire, especially toward those who are in the public limelight.

While I certainly do not think it's nice to mock another person's religion, or life philosophy as Scientologists put it, and Scientology is indeed viciously mocked by South Park in this episode, it is certainly within the realm of comedy. As long as the comedy is actually funny, and in this case it's hilarious, I'm OK with it.

One item that might be worth exploring in follow-up reports is the actual status of Scientology as a religion. Yes, Scientology has established tax-exempt status and walks like a religion, but it does not always talk like a religion. Scientologists have left comments on this blog that "many people practice Scientology and their chosen faith." This includes Hayes, who says he is a Baptist by birth and that he considers Scientology an "applied religious philosophy."

Perhaps the Internal Revenue Service needs to take another look at the group's status as a religion?

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