May 7 (RNS)--Deciding that comics pages are not the place for "religioussermonizing," New Jersey's largest newspaper yanked the "B.C." comicstrip after a controversial Easter cartoon sparked an outcry from somegroups who called it insensitive.

The offending cartoon, published last month in the NewarkStar-Ledger, depicted a menorah transforming into a cross. In the sixthof seven frames, the words "It is finished" appeared above the menorah'slast remaining flame. In the last panel, all seven candles on themenorah were burned out, and the menorah turned into a cross.

Several groups, including the American Jewish Committee, the SimonWiesenthal Center, the Jewish Defense League and the Anti-DefamationLeague, denounced the comic strip as an advocate of "ReplacementTheology" -- the idea that Christianity has supplanted Judaism.

"This is insensitive and offensive because what it proclaims is thatJudaism is finished and Christianity has taken over," Abraham Foxman,national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told Religion NewsService. "The timing makes it that much more insensitive and offensive."

But the comic strip's creator, Johnny Hart, has insisted he onlyintended to "pay tribute" to Jews and Christians.

"I regret if some people misunderstood the strip and I hurt theirfeelings," wrote Hart, an evangelical Christian, in a statementpublished on the Web site of the Creators Syndicate, which distributeshis cartoon to some 1,300 newspapers nationwide. "I abhor the so-calledreplacement theology. (Easter week) is a holy week for both Christiansand Jews, and my intent as always was to pay tribute to both."

Hart's comic strip was published for the last time in the NewarkStar-Ledger on Sunday (May 6).

In an editor's note published Friday (May 4) on his paper's opinionpage, newspaper editor Jim Willse wrote: "We do not believe the comicspages are the place for religious sermonizing, no matter what themessage or how occasionally it is delivered.

"So we are canceling `B.C.' with regret and with the hope thatreaders who enjoy its humor will understand that for this newspaper,there is a higher law."

Though Jewish readers were among many who supported the comicstrip's continuation, Willse wrote that "a basic principle of thenewspaper" would be compromised if the comic strip were continued.

"The Star-Ledger would not allow one of its writers to turn a or acolumn into a private religious tract, and we will not allow that optionto an outside contributor to what once were known as the funny pages,"wrote Willse.

The Star-Ledger's decision places the paper among some half a dozenthat have canceled the comic strip since the Easter cartoon appeared,the president and chief executive of Creators Syndicate told theAssociated Press. But about the same number of newspapers have sincedecided to publish the comic strip, Richard S. Newcombe said.