MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley apologized Wednesday for his inauguration day remarks about only Christians being his brothers and sisters and said he would work over the next four years for people of all faiths and colors.
Bentley said he didn't mean to insult anyone with comments he made from the pulpit of a church once led by Martin Luther King Jr. He said he was speaking as an evangelical Christian to fellow Baptists.
"If anyone from other religions felt disenfranchised by the language, I want to say I am sorry. I am sorry if I offended anyone in any way," Bentley said Wednesday.
Bentley, who spoke at the church during a King holiday event after his official inaugural address, said no one should hate anyone else because of color or religion.
Speaking with reporters after meeting with several members of Alabama's Jewish community and other faith leaders at his Capitol office, Bentley said he will be a governor for everyone, not just Christians.
The Republican is a former legislator and Southern Baptist deacon who emerged from the back of a crowded GOP field to win the governor's office. He told the church crowd just moments into his new administration that those who haven't accepted Jesus as their savior are not his brothers and sisters.
"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," Bentley said.
Some in the crowd at the church said "Amen," but groups representing other faiths in Alabama called the remarks shocking.
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that fights discrimination, said it sounded like Bentley was using the office of governor to advocate for Christian conversion.
"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," ADL regional director Bill Nigut said.