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Airline chief apologizes for pilot's evangelical remarks

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(CNN) -- The chief of American Airlines apologized for the actions of a proselytizing pilot, an airline spokesman said Saturday.

Earlier this month, at the start of a cross-country flight, pilot Rodger K. Findiesen asked Christian passengers to identify themselves by raising their hands. He then suggested that those did not raise their hands use the flight time to query those who did.

Gerard J. Arpey, president and CEO of American's parent company, AMR Corp., apologized for the pilot's actions in a letter to the Anti-Defamation League.

"Our policies are quite clear that American Airlines promotes an environment of respect for the diversity of all persons, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, disability, gender, age or sexual orientation," Arpey wrote the to the ADL, a group which monitors anti-Semitism. In an earlier letter, the ADL expressed its concern to Arpey.

Quotations from the letter were published in Friday editions of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a Texas newspaper.

American grounded the pilot without pay while it investigates the incident, American spokesman John Hotard said.

Findiesen was scheduled to meet with the airline's investigators earlier this week, but the hearing was postponed while airline investigators took statements from passengers and flight attendants, he said.

The results of the investigation may never be made public because the airline has said it does not discuss matters of employee discipline.

Passengers said that Findiesen, at the controls of American Flight 34 from California's Los Angeles International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in metropolitan New York, said over the speaker system that they were "crazy" for not being Christians.

Some passengers complained to flight attendants; a few said they worried about safety after being asked to discuss their religion.

Passenger Karla Austin said some of her fellow passengers were so shocked by the pilot's comments they reached for their mobile phones or on-flight phone.

"Just given the history of what's happened on planes in this country, anything can happen at this point. So we weren't sure if something was going to happen at takeoff, if he was going to wait until JFK (John F. Kennedy) to do something," Austin said. "But there was definitely implication there that we felt that something was going to happen."

About 45 minutes into the flight, the pilot came back on and apologized to crew members, but not passengers, a passenger said.

An airline spokesman said Findiesen denies using the word "crazy."

The pilot told the company he had just returned from a church mission trip and was encouraging people to use the four-and-a-half hour flight to speak with Christian passengers about their relationship with God, the spokesman said.

In a February 9 letter to the airline, ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said: "The allegations, if true, are deeply troubling. Religious faith and belief are private and personal matters. The pilot in question purportedly used his authority to invade this sphere of privacy."

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