WASHINGTON – Combat rifle sights used by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan carry references to Bible verses, stoking concerns about whether the inscriptions break a government rule that bars proselytizing by American troops.
Military officials said the citations don’t violate the ban and they won’t stop using the telescoping sights, which allow troops to pinpoint the enemy day or night.
The contractor that makes the equipment, Trijicon of Wixom, Mich., said the U.S. military has been a customer since 1995 and that the company has never received any complaints about the Scripture citations.
"We don’t publicize this," said Tom Munson, Trijicon’s director of sales and marketing said in an interview. "It’s not something we make a big deal out of. But when asked, we say, ’Yes, it’s there."’
The inscriptions are subtle and appear in raised lettering at the end of the stock number. Trijicon’s rifle sights use tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, to create light and help shooters hit what they’re aiming for.
Markings on the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, one of the company’s most advanced models, include "JN8:12," a reference to John 8:12: "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ "
The Trijicon Reflex sight is stamped with 2COR4:6, a reference to part of the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians: "For God, who said, ’Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
Photos posted on a Defense Department Web site show Iraqi forces training with rifles equipped with the inscribed sights.
The Defense Department is a major customer of Trijicon’s. In 2009 alone, the Marine Corps signed deals worth $66 million for the company’s products. Trijicon’s scopes and optical devices for guns range in cost from a few hundred dollars to $13,000, according to the company’s Web site.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, says the biblically inscribed sights could give the Taliban and other enemy forces a propaganda tool: that American troops are Christian crusaders invading Muslim countries.
"I don’t have to wonder for a nanosecond how the American public would react if citations from the Koran were being inscribed onto these U.S. armed forces gun sights instead of New Testament citations," Weinstein said. The foundation is a non-profit watchdog group opposed to religious favoritism within the military.
Weinstein said he has received complaints about the Scripture citations from active-duty and retired members of the military. He said he couldn’t identify them because they fear retaliation.
A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which manages military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the inscribed sights don’t violate the ban on proselytizing because there’s no effort to distribute the equipment beyond the U.S. troops who use them.
"This situation is not unlike the situation with U.S. currency," said the spokesman, Air Force Maj. John Redfield. "Are we going to stop using money because the bills have ‘In God We Trust’ on them? As long as the sights meet the combat needs of troops, they’ll continue to be used."
The Marine Corps and the Army did not respond to e-mails from The Associated Press requesting comment on the Trijicon sights.
Munson, Trijicon’s sales director, said the practice of putting Bible references on the sites began nearly 30 years ago by Trijicon’s founder, Glyn Bindon, who was killed in a plane crash in 2003. His son Stephen, Trijicon’s president, has continued the practice.