Updated Jan. 19, 5:55 p.m. ET
Alabama Republican Governor Robert Bentley said in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day message Monday that he does not consider Americans who do not accept Jesus Christ as their savior to be his brothers and sisters.
"There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit," Bentley said shortly after taking the oath of office, according to the Birmingham News. ''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."
''Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters," he continued. "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."
American Atheists President David Silverman told Hotsheet that the comments were "bigoted" and show that Bentley "puts his Bible above the Constitution of the United States."
"There is a difference between being a governor and being a mullah, or being a preacher," he said. "Being the governor of all people means that you are a representative of all people. It certainly does not mean that you abuse your position to push your religion on people who differ from your faith."
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish rights group, also condemned the comments.
"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," ADL Southeast Regional Director Bill Nigut said. "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."
Nigut added: "Governor Bentley's remarks suggest that he is determined to use his new position to proselytize 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."
Asked about Bentley's comments, his communications director, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, told the Birmingham News, "He is the governor of all the people, Christians, non-Christians alike."
While Bentley, a deacon at a Baptist church, drew a distinction between Christians and non-Christians in his comments, he also said he was "color blind" and would represent all the people in his state.
Bentley's comments may not be much of a problem for the new governor. During the Alabama GOP gubernatorial primary, candidate Bradley Byrne wasthat evolution, as opposed to creationism, "best explains the origin of life."
His response was to deem the ad awash in "despicable lies" and insist, "As a Christian and as a public servant, I have never wavered in my belief that this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God." He went on to tout his efforts to ensure creationism be taught in public schools.
UPDATE, Jan. 19: On Wednesday, Bentley met with members of Alabama's Jewish community andfor his remarks, promising to serve all his constituents, regardless of their faith.