1/19/2011 Updated Below With Governor Bentley's Apology
As Ben Smith (via Political Wire) notes, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley offered what I would term a bizarre and offensive statement during his inaugural address an event honoring The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
''I was elected as a Republican candidate. But once I became governor ... I became the governor of all the people. I intend to live up to that. I am color blind," Bentley said in a short speech given about an hour after he took the oath of office as governor.
Then Bentley, who for years has been a deacon at First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, gave what sounded like an altar call.
"There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit," Bentley said. ''But if you have been adopted in God's family like I have, and like you have if you're a Christian and if you're saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister."
Bentley added, ''Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."
The governor would do well to immediately resign his position and become a preacher in a fundamentalist church because he essentially just told the people of his state that if you're Jewish or Muslim or atheist or anything else that doesn't fit his vision of Christianity than you aren't part of the Alabama community. That is a dangerous message for a public official to make. How can you live up to being governor of all the people after that statement? Frankly, you cannot serve as the governor of just those who subscribe to your own religious views.
Update: 1/18/2001 1:40 PM: The ADL has issued a statement:
Atlanta, GA, January 18, 2011 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today condemned remarks by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who told an audience in Montgomery that citizens who do not accept Jesus as their savior are "not my brothers and sisters."
"It is shocking that Governor Bentley would suggest that non-Christians are not worthy of the same love and respect he professes to have for the Christian community," said ADL Southeast Regional Director Bill Nigut. "His comments are not only offensive, but also raise serious questions as to whether non-Christians can expect to receive equal treatment during his tenure as governor..."
"Governor Bentley's remarks suggest that he is determined to use his new position to proselytize for Christian conversion," Nigut said. "If he does so, he is dancing dangerously close to a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids government from promoting the establishment of any religion."
The Interfaith Alliance has also just now issued a statement in response to the Governor's remarks:
Governor Bentley’s comments yesterday at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church raise disturbing concerns for anyone committed to protecting religious freedom and maintaining the Constitutional boundaries between religion and government in this country. The people of Alabama elected Mr. Bentley to lead the state, not to give him a platform from which to proselytize. Though Mr. Bentley promised to be ‘the governor of all the people,’ he immediately cast doubt on the sincerity of that statement by telling citizens in Alabama who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior that ‘you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister’—thus creating two classifications of residents in the state.
It is somewhat ironic that these comments were made on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Dr. King’s own church. Dr. King embraced all those who stood with him in his quest for civil rights and gave his life for the establishment of a society in which there were no classifications of citizens identifying some as more important to government leaders than others. Mr. Bentley’s comments fly in the face of the example Dr. King set for us and throw in question the new governor’s commitment to religious freedom as promised in the United States Constitution.
Mr. Bentley has a right to his beliefs, as do those who hold beliefs different from his, but he must remember his election conferred upon him the title and responsibilities of “Governor,” not “Reverend.”
1/19/2011 3:11 PM Update: Governor Bentley has rightfully apologized today for his remarks:
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley this afternoon apologized to anyone he may have offended with his inaugural day comments that non-Christians were not his brothers and sisters.
Bentley met for an hour with members of Alabama's Jewish community and afterward told reporters he meant no insult with his words.
"What I would like to do is apologize. Should anyone who heard those words and felt disenfranchised, I want to say, 'I'm sorry.' If you're not a person who can say you are sorry, you're not a very good leader," Bentley said.
The governor's statement today is very appropriate and he should be commended for recognizing his error. He'll be judged now on whether or not he truly serves all the people of his state regardless of their religious faith.