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

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

Several groups, including the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Jewish Defense League and the Anti-Defamation League, denounced the comic strip as an advocate of "Replacement Theology" -- the idea that Christianity has supplanted Judaism.

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

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

"I regret if some people misunderstood the strip and I hurt their feelings," wrote Hart, an evangelical Christian, in a statement published on the Web site of the Creators Syndicate, which distributes his cartoon to some 1,300 newspapers nationwide. "I abhor the so-called replacement theology. (Easter week) is a holy week for both Christians and Jews, and my intent as always was to pay tribute to both."

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

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

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

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

"The Star-Ledger would not allow one of its writers to turn a or a column into a private religious tract, and we will not allow that option to 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 dozen that have canceled the comic strip since the Easter cartoon appeared, the president and chief executive of Creators Syndicate told the Associated Press. But about the same number of newspapers have since decided to publish the comic strip, Richard S. Newcombe said.

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