WASHINGTON -- Saying it's not a boycott, a coalition of like-minded traditional groups announced June 3 they would try to keep a Comedy Central cartoon about Jesus Christ off the air by preemptively pressuring advertisers not to sponsor it.
The cartoon, "JC," is still in development but its description has troubled Christian groups. According to the Associated Press, the cartoon would depict Jesus as a "regular guy" who moves to New York City to "escape his father's enormous shadow." Christ's father will be depicted as "an apathetic man who would rather play video games than listen to his son talk about his new life."
Comedy Central, the coalition says, has a double standard when it comes to religion, often editing shows such as the irreverent "South Park" so as not to offend Muslims. In April an episode of South Park even bleeped out references to Muhammad and placed a black box over images of him following an apparent violent threat from an Islamic website. Viacom owns Comedy Central.
There's no guarantee that "JC" will make it to air even without pressure from advertisers -- many series in development never make it that far -- but the coalition wants to make sure.
"Anyone who advertisers on this show will be a sponsor of anti-Christian bigotry," Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, said on a conference call with reporters. "... We feel quite confident that once they see what exactly they would be sponsoring, that no decent company is going to want to have anything to do with this."
The coalition, calling itself Citizens Against Religious Bigotry, is sending a letter to more than 250 advertisers, urging them "to hold back your advertising dollars from such an abomination purported to be entertainment." The letter asks the advertisers to respond within two weeks as to whether they will decline to sponsor "JC." The coalition will announce on June 17 which advertisers have responded.
"No sponsor could possibly say they would be proud to be associated with such insensitive material," the letter, signed by 19 groups and individuals, reads.
The coalition released a three-minute video showing Comedy Central's past depictions of Christianity, such as a South Park clip in which one of the characters stabs Jesus with a knife and another South Park clip in which Jesus points to a dog-like creature and says, "[This] is my father the creator. He is the alpha, the omega, the beginning and the end." In another Comedy Central clip, Jesus is seen defecating on President George W. Bush.
"The double standard is shocking," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. "When Christians attempt a serious discussion over our theological or political differences ... we're called intolerant. Why does Comedy Central give such deference to Islam while mocking Christianity?"
But even if South Park did not edit references to Muhammad and there was no double standard, the coalition would still be taking a stand, Bozell said.
"The double standard just jumps off the page, but I think that all religions ought to be treated with respect," he said.
Radio host Michael Medved, who is Jewish and is part of the coalition, said he knows some people will respond to the coalition by arguing traditionalists should just "turn it off" and not watch it. That, though, is not the point, Medved said. The show, he said, is "needlessly hurtful, patently offensive and full of malice."
"Your children may not watch it and they may not be allowed to, but other people's kids will," Medved said. "It spreads hatred toward other people."
Those other kids, Medved said, will tease Christian children about matters of faith, perhaps asking, "Do you really believe that?"
"We don't do that in America," he said, referencing intentional harm toward religions. "... Even if you can make a buck on it, it's not worth it in the long-term calculation."
Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, said advertisers could decide if the show makes it to air.
"The advertising community needs to open its eyes to the fact that they are the ultimate consumer when it comes to television," Winter said. "They hold the checkbook and they have the power to push back when program content conflicts with the values of their customers."
Comedy Central's programming, Winter added, is another reason his organization supports cable choice, which would allow consumers to pay only for the channels they want. It sometimes is called "a la carte" programming.
"It is unconscionable that American consumers are forced to purchase cable channels that they don't want, don't watch and may actually find harmful or offensive in order to purchase cable channels that are educational, informative, uplifting and entertaining," Winter said. "Viacom [and other cable and satellite companies] require us all to purchase Comedy Central, as well as MTV, BET, VH1 and Spike in order to gain access to Nickelodeon or TV Land. No other entertainment medium forces a consumer to purchase its products in such bundles."