The letter, dated Oct. 4, follows a series of controversial statements by Jerry Falwell regarding the attacks. The televangelist said in an interview on Pat Robertson's "700 Club" that gays and lesbians, abortionists and groups such as the ACLU and People for the American Way bore responsibility for a national moral decline that led to the attacks. He later called his remarks "insensitive" and apologized for singling out particular groups for blame.
"While my father made it abundantly clear that he blamed absolutely no one but the terrorists for the slaughter of thousands of Americans in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania ... liberals, and especially gay activists, have launched a vicious smear campaign to discredit him," Jonathan Falwell wrote.
The younger Falwell serves as executive pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, the Lynchburg, Va., megachurch where his father is senior pastor.
Jonathan Falwell, who is the church's administrator, urged donors to return a "Vote of Confidence Reply Card" with gifts of "at least $50 or even $100" and a personal note supporting his father.
Ron Godwin, president of Jerry Falwell Ministries, confirmed that the ministry has lost more than $500,000, which he attributes in part to a hesitancy of some donors to give away money at a time of economic uncertainty.
"There are many reasons and the smear campaign certainly played a role, I'm sure," he said.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a watchdog group that has often been critical of Falwell, issued a press release about the letter.
"I thought Falwell couldn't sink much lower than he did in his vicious remarks after the Sept. 11 tragedy," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "But this fund-raising letter is indeed a new low."
Godwin defended the action by the ministry and criticized Lynn for "exploiting" Falwell.
"The letter was written in good faith and it was written to our donors and our supporters and it reflected a real need that we face," he said.