NEW YORK – Banned by Comedy Central from showing an image of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, the creators of "South Park" skewered their own network for hypocrisy in the cartoon's most recent episode.
The comedy — in an episode aired during Holy Week for Christians — instead featured an image of Jesus Christ defecating on President Bush and the American flag.
In an elaborately constructed two-part episode of their Peabody Award-winning cartoon, "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker intended to comment on the controversy created by a Danish newspaper's publishing of caricatures of Muhammad. Muslims consider any physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous.
When the cartoons were reprinted in newspapers worldwide in January and February, it sparked a wave of protests primarily in Islamic countries.
Parker and Stone were angered when told by Comedy Central several weeks ago that they could not run an image of Muhammad, according to a person close to the show who didn't want to be identified because of the issue's sensitivity.
The network's decision was made over concerns for public safety, the person said.
Comedy Central said in a statement issued Thursday: "In light of recent world events, we feel we made the right decision." Its executives would not comment further.
As is often the case with Parker and Stone, they built "South Park" around the incident. In Wednesday's episode, the character Kyle is shown trying to persuade a Fox network executive to air an uncensored "Family Guy" even though it had an image of Muhammad.
"Either it's all OK, or none of it is," Kyle said. "Do the right thing."
The executive decides to strike a blow for free speech and agrees to show it. But at the point where Muhammad is to be seen, the screen is filled with the message: "Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Muhammad on their network."
It is followed shortly by the images of Christ, Bush and the flag.
A frequent "South Park" critic, William Donohue of the anti-defamation group Catholic League, called on Parker and Stone to resign out of principle for being censored.
"The ultimate hypocrite is not Comedy Central — that's their decision not to show the image of Muhammad or not — it's Parker and Stone," he said. "Like little whores, they'll sit there and grab the bucks. They'll sit there and they'll whine and they'll take their shot at Jesus. That's their stock in trade."
Parker and Stone did not immediately respond to a request through a spokesman for comment.
It's the second run-in over religion in a few months for the satirists. Comedy Central refused to rerun a "South Park" episode that mocked Scientologists. Isaac Hayes, a Scientologist who voiced the Chef character on the show, resigned in protest over the episode.
"South Park" again got the last word last month with an episode where Chef was seemingly killed and mourned as a jolly guy whose brains were scrambled by the "Super Adventure Club," which turns its members into pedophiles.
Only last week, "South Park" won broadcasting's prestigious Peabody. Awards director Horace Newcomb said at the time that by its offensiveness, the show "reminds us of the need for being tolerant."