On Nov. 16, 2005, Comedy Central ran the “South Park” episode titled “Trapped in the Closet.” The episode poked fun at the infamous R. Kelly video saga and the religion Scientology along with its major celebrity followers. Tom Cruise was attacked maliciously. In response, he wrote a letter to Comedy Central and had the episode banned from being played again. However, that was not the end. On March 17, 2006, Isaac Hayes, an outspoken Scientologist and the voice of “South Park’s” “Chef” left the show saying that show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker had gone too far. Hayes released a statement on Mar. 20, saying “There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins.” Hayes, who has been a civil rights activist for 40 years, continues by saying that religious beliefs are sacred to people and he cannot support a show that he says “disrespects those beliefs and practices.” The episode in question centers on the character Stan and how he is believed to be the reincarnation of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The episode then mocks the religion, as well as the sexuality of John Travolta, R. Kelly, and Tom Cruise, who is an ordained priest in the Church of Scientology.
Scientology is based around Hubbard’s 1950 sci-fi novel “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.” The belief for creation is centered around a race of aliens that were frozen and discarded in Mt. St. Helens in Washington. The bodies then defrosted and the souls escaped, inhabiting one-celled organisms that created humans. Scientologists also believe in reincarnation. The religion also calls for payment in order to advance in the Church.
After Hayes announced his departure from the popular show, Stone and Parker released a statement. “South Park” has become notorious for poking fun at all religions, primarily Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Stone said to the Associated Press, “This is 100 percent having to do with his faith in Scientology..He has no problem-he has cashed plenty of checks-with our show making fun of Christians.” Stone later said that neither he nor Parker heard any complaints from him until they lampooned Scientology. Stone said, “He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begins.”
There are reports beginning to surface in the past week that have said that Hayes suffered a stroke in January. Some on the internet have cited that he does not oppose the episode, but that since he is suffering memory loss, people are telling him to be against it. How much of this is true and how much is actually a conspiracy remains a question.
For now, the show is going to continue on, but the future of the character remains unknown. To coincide with Hayes’ departure, Stone and Parker threw together an episode entitled “The Return of Chef,” which replaced the episode that was originally supposed to air. Since Hayes had not recorded any voice acting, the creators used previously recorded dialogue. The episode aired on March 22, 2006. Comedy Central also announced that they will not cut the episode that caused this controversy when they release the complete ninth season on DVD in the future.