Singer Isaac Hayes quits 'South Park'

Los Angeles, USA - 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, 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.

Rather, Hayes said the show's parody of religion in general was part of what he saw as a "growing insensitivity toward personal spiritual beliefs" in the media, including the recent controversy over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.

"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs ... begins," Hayes said.

The crudely animated cartoon, heading into its 10th season next week as one of Comedy Central's biggest hits, centers on the antics of four foul-mouthed fourth graders in the town of South Park, Colorado.

Outlandish religious satire has been a mainstay of the show since its debut on the Viacom Inc.-owned network in 1997. The series grew out of two short films by Stone and collaborator Trey Parker -- "Jesus vs. Frosty" and "The Spirit of Christmas," the latter featuring a martial-arts duel between Jesus and Santa Claus over the true meaning of Christmas.

Hayes, the first black composer to win an Oscar for best song with his theme to the 1971 film "Shaft," gained renewed fame on "South Park" as the voice of Jerome "Chef" McElroy, the school cafeteria cook whom the boys often seek out for advice.

In an episode last fall, one of the gang, Stan, scores so high on a Scientology test that church followers think he is the next L. Ron Hubbard, the late science-fiction writer who founded the religion. Hayes did not take part in that episode.

In an interview with Reuters late last year, Hayes talked about a foundation he formed to bring Scientology-based study techniques to disadvantaged inner-city schools, in partnership with fellow devotee Lisa Marie Presley.

"But it's not religious," he said then, describing himself as Baptist by birth and Scientology as "an applied religious philosophy."

Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox said producers have not decided whether Chef would be dropped from the show or continued with another actor supplying his voice.