The Rev. Jerry Falwell apologized last night for saying that last week's terrorist attacks reflected God's judgment on a nation spiritually weakened by the American Civil Liberties Union, providers of abortion, supporters of gay rights and federal court rulings on school prayer.
After enduring a round of criticism that included a rebuke from the White House, Mr. Falwell issued a statement saying he regretted his remarks on Thursday on Pat Robertson's television program, "The 700 Club." On the program, he said that God, angered by the secular groups, had lifted a "curtain" of protection and allowed the terrorists to strike.
"I apologize that, during a week when everyone appropriately dropped all labels and no one was seen as liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, religious or secular, I singled out for blame certain groups of Americans," Mr. Falwell said in the statement. He said his remarks were "insensitive, uncalled for at the time and unnecessary."
"The only label any of us needs in such a terrible time of crisis is American," he said. In an interview last night, Mr. Falwell said his remarks on Mr. Robertson's program ran counter to his lifelong theological conviction that it was impossible to know whether an event reflected God's judgment.
"I am saying that no human being has the knowledge that any act is an act of God's judgment and any person is responsible for God's judgment," he said. If the terrorist attacks did reflect God's judgment, he said, then "that judgment is on all of America - including me and all fellow sinners."
Mr. Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University and pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., drew enormous criticism for his remarks last Thursday, and not just from liberal groups. On Friday, a White House spokesman said that President Bush did not share the views Mr. Falwell expressed and believed them to be "inappropriate."
Mr. Falwell said he had been told to expect such a statement in a phone call on Friday morning from a Bush aide. He would identify the aide only as "the president's friend."
"He told me that the White House statement would be that the president thought they were inappropriate and the president did not concur with them," Mr. Falwell said. But he said repeatedly that no one pressured him to apologize.
On "The 700 Club," Mr. Robertson twice agreed with Mr. Falwell's remarks, a transcript shows. But Mr. Falwell said Mr. Robertson had only discussed the possibility that God could lift his protection.
Mr. Robertson released a statement on Friday saying that no one on his program had suggested that anyone but terrorists was responsible for last Tuesday's attacks.