For Matt Stone and Trey Parker, nothing is holy or immune to satire. And since the launch of their groundbreaking animated TV series "South Park," they've skewered a multitude of world religions, pointing out hypocrisies, inanities or just playing with ridiculous stereotypes. One of their most famous religious satires, 2005's Scientology-targeting "Trapped In The Closet" episode, allegedly struck such a nerve with the church's leaders that the group responded by targeting Stone, Parker and their friends in a long-term covert investigation.
Marty Rathbun, a former Church of Scientology executive-turned-critic and independent worshipper, revealed to the Village Voice a number of documents that detailed the religious sect's detailed surveillance of the Emmy-winning TV moguls. Through the help of informants, public records and various other means, they searched for "vulnerabilities" in the pair's personal lives, and after exploring their personal and business connections, widened their focus to investigating actors such as John Stamos, as well.
"Phone records. Bank records. Personal letters that expose some kind of vulnerability," Rathbun told the Voice. "They'll read stuff into the kind of alcohol you're drinking and how much. Prescriptions. They'll figure out your diet. They can find out a lot about you through your trash."
Rathbun's personal site leads with a post that includes more information, including this summary: "In ’06 the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, became targets of Corporate Scientology’s OSA. Operations were run in an attempt to silence Parker and Stone. While Corporate Scientology was ultimately unsuccessful, left behind an instructive data trail during their efforts."
"Trapped in the Closet" featured a storyline that had Stan, one of the four children that make up the show's core, take a "personality test" after being encountered on the street by a group of Scientologists. The vague test reveals that he is miserable, which leads him to agree to pay the church to make him happy again. An "E-meter" reading reveals that he is housing the soul of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and various Hollywood celebrities who are members of the church flock to his home to help convince him to become their new leader.
One of those celebrities included Tom Cruise, who locks himself in a closet, which was a clear allusion to various rumors about his sexuality. John Travolta, another member of the church, soon joined him in the closet. Stan's friends tell him that the religion is actually a cult, pointing out that Hubbard was a science fiction writer, though he at first refuses to believe it. Eventually, the Scientology elders reveal that the church is a for-profit con, calling their own religion "crap."
Cruise was so incensed by the episode that he allegedly threatened to not participate in promotion for "Mission: Impossible III" junket if a re-run of the episode was aired; Viacom owns both Comedy Central and Paramount, the studio that put out the film. Cruise's reps denied this, though the episode was indeed pulled. Stone and Parker, for their part, put out a satirical statement on the matter:
"So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!"
"Trey Parker and Matt Stone, servants of the dark lord Xenu."
Rathbun teased more documents, which reveal major advances in their investigations, would come soon. He was arrested in September, allegedly at the behest of the Church of Scientology, though charges were later dropped; the Voice reported then that the Church of Scientology was harassing him, in part because he practices the faith outside of the official Church.
"South Park" satirizes religion in just about every episode (click here for a slide show of ten of their most memorable). The show has cast Satan as the cowardly lover of Saddam Hussein, while Kyle, another of the four core children, comes from a very stereotypical Jewish family. Parker and Stone also created the Broadway show, "Book of Mormon," which pokes fun at that religion.