"I misstated my own deeply held conviction that the hijackers, the terrorists, along with those who harbored and funded them, are solely and totally responsible for those barbaric deeds."
With those words Sept. 20 to Diane Sawyer on ABC's Good Morning America, Rev. Jerry Falwell tried to take back what he told the world on Pat Robertson's 700 Club show Sept. 13, just two days after the attacks on U.S. citizens.
Falwell had stated previously: "I really believe that the pagans, the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen."
But Falwell's apology was treated with hostility by most gay and civil-rights activists. Even some right-wing commentators chastised Falwell, while others, including James Dobson, came to his defense.
Falwell told Sawyer: "That interview that you just aired, by the way, in between 14 other interviews, I was trying...I'm not going to make any excuses. I've been at this 45 years almost every day on television. No excuses. I was trying to say what President Lincoln said 160 years ago at his prayer proclamation regarding the cause of the Civil War and what King Solomon said 2,700 years ago in the Proverbs, 14:34. I missed the mark. No human being ... including myself, knows, has any idea when God is executing judgment, when he's not. I certainly don't believe that those innocent thousands in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, were the targets of God's wrath. But, unfortunately, my total failure to accurately state what I was trying to say left an impression that is of a vengeful...vengeful God who's done a terrible thing to the people. And I...I sincerely apologize.'
Sawyer responded with hard-hitting questions about the nature of Falwell's beliefs and his apology.
"I do not believe they endanger America. I misspoke totally and entirely," Falwell said. "I'm here by choice because ... we're helping. We're raising money for the firefighters fund, we're trying to minister, we have people on the ground there working. And that one stupid statement that I made is indefensible, it is not...it is not a blip, it was a mistake, and I...I didn't get to straighten it out."
Pat Robertson, who originally shook his head in support of Falwell's statement on 700 Club, released a statement saying that Falwell was "severe and harsh" and that in concurring with Falwell, he did it because, "he frankly didn't understand."
"Pat didn't say what I said," Falwell told Sawyer. "I take the total blame for it. Pat was talking about something totally within the concept of a good Christian program. I am the one who made the stupid statement you
just played, and I take full responsibility. Pat is totally nonresponsible, and I am sorry."
In another public comment, Falwell said: "My statements on the 700 Club ... were called divisive by some whom I mentioned by name. I had no intention of being divisive. I was sharing my burden for revival in America on a Christian TV program, intending to speak to a Christian audience from a theological perspective about the need for national repentance. In retrospect, I should have mentioned the national sins without mentioning the organizations and persons by name."
Rush Limbaugh issued his own statement condemning Falwell and Robertson: "Suggestions of this kind are one of the reasons why all conservatives get tarred and feathered with this extremist, bigoted, racist, sexist, homophobic label or image that isn't true. The words of Robertson and Falwell are not the words of all conservatives...they are the words of Robertson and Falwell. ... All I can say is I was profoundly embarrassed and disappointed by their comments. They can try to take them back all they want, but the bottom line is that their words are indefensible."
A White House spokesman called their remarks inappropriate.
ORU-OUT, an association of 200 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered "GLBT" alumni and associates of Oral Roberts University, denounced the remarks made by Falwell, Robertson and Dobson.
On his Focus on the Family radio program, Dobson said, responding to Falwell, "Yes I believe that the attacks are God's punishment because we are in a moral decay in this country, with abortion, forcing children to be taught about homosexuality, removing God from the schools, sexual immorality on television, and in our government. And this is God's way of punishing the wicked."
ORU-OUT sent an open letter to ORU's President Richard Roberts and university founder and Chancellor, Oral Roberts. "As alumni of ORU we call upon Richard and Oral Roberts to repudiate the grossly inappropriate statements made by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson on Sept. 13, 2001," said Jeff McKissack, founder and President of ORU-OUT.
The anti-gay Family Research Council event attacked Falwell's comments. "This is not the time to further wound America's spirit by casting blame on our fellow citizens," said FRC President Ken Connor. "Scripture tells us that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.' Singling out groups whose conduct offends us is not likely to bring about the national repentance that our country needs. It is more likely that such actions will simply polarize at a time when we are desperately in need of national unity."
NGLTF CALLS FOR
PRESERVATION OF RIGHTS
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force joined with a large, new coalition of allied organizations to call for the preservation of freedom and civil liberties in the wake of the events of Sept. 11.
The "In Defense of Freedom" coalition...which includes a broad array of civil liberties, civil rights, ethnic, religious, privacy, and watchdog groups from the entire political spectrum...released a statement.
"The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force stands in solidarity today with our colleagues from the ACLU, NAACP and other defenders of civil rights and liberties," said NGLTF Executive Director Lorri L. Jean. "In response to last week's attacks and the understandable wave of public anger and grief, George W. Bush and Congress are on the verge of hastily enacting sweeping and unprecedented proposals to extend the reach of law enforcement.
"Compromising the civil liberties that are the basis of our free society will only compound the tragedy of last week. We call for a more considered approach, including appropriate public debate and scrutiny, to ensure that the legislation does not weaken the fabric of our long-standing personal freedoms."
The American Civil Liberties Union has established a web site to chronicle this effort. See www.indefenseoffreedom.org .
1. Last week thousands of people lost their lives in a brutal assault on the American people and the American form of government. We mourn the loss of these innocent lives and insist that those who perpetrated these acts be held accountable.
2. This tragedy requires all Americans to examine carefully the steps our country may now take to reduce the risk of future terrorist attacks.
3. We need to consider proposals calmly and deliberately with a determination not to erode the liberties and freedoms that are at the core of the American way of life.
4. We need to ensure that actions by our government uphold the principles of a democratic society, accountable government and international law, and that all decisions are taken in a manner consistent with the Constitution.
5. We can, as we have in the past, in times of war and of peace, reconcile the requirements of security with the demands of liberty.
6. We should resist the temptation to enact proposals in the mistaken belief that anything that may be called anti-terrorist will necessarily provide greater security.
7. We should resist efforts to target people because of their race, religion, ethnic background or appearance, including immigrants in general, Arab Americans and Muslims.
8. We affirm the right of peaceful dissent, protected by the First Amendment, now, when it is most at risk.
9. We should applaud our political leaders in the days ahead who have the courage to say that our freedoms should not be limited.
10. We must have faith in our democratic system and our Constitution, and in our ability to protect at the same time both the freedom and the security of all Americans.