U.S. News

Firm to Remove Bible References From Gun Sights

Eric Eckholm|The New York Times

Bowing to Pentagon concerns and an international outcry, a Michigan arms company said Thursday that it would immediately stop embossing references to New Testament Scriptures on rifle sights it sells the military.

The company, Trijicon Inc., has multimillion-dollar contracts with the Pentagon for advanced telescopic sights that are widely used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trijicon also said it would provide the Pentagon with 100 free kits to use for removing the lettering on existing weapons.

Source: trijicon.com

For years, the company acknowledged, it has put small scriptural references near the model numbers on some products, a practice started by its founder, who was a Christian.

The references, like JN8:12 and 2COR4:6, referring to passages in the Gospel of John and in Second Corinthians, had not been widely noticed or debated until an ABC News report this week. Scopes with biblical references were also sold to the Australian, New Zealand and British militaries.

Neither the company nor the Pentagon released estimates of how many current military weapons carried Trijicon gun sights.

The Marine Corps has a $660 million contract with Trijicon for more than 200,000 of the high-tech rifle sights, said Capt. Geraldine Carey, a Marine spokeswoman. The Army said it had bought just under 200,000 of the sights.

A Trijicon spokesman said the company started adding the biblical references to products well before it received its first military contract, in 1995, and had done so until now.

As word of the practice spread, it was condemned by civil liberties groups and some religious groups in the United States and abroad.

Michael L. Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said that several of the group’s members, including active-duty military personnel, had contacted him in recent weeks to complain about the subtle religious references on their weapons and that he had alerted ABC.

“The Constitution won today,” Mr. Weinstein said of the company’s decision.

After the television news report, Pentagon spokesmen called the inscriptions inappropriate and said they were looking into the matter.

Some religious groups were more strident in their condemnations.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington said the biblical references violated the nation’s values and would stoke the fires of extremists who accuse the United States of carrying out a religious crusade in Asia and the Middle East.

In a letter early Thursday to President Obama, the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said the gun sights “clearly violate a government rule prohibiting proselytizing” and called the practice “only the latest in a long line of violations of the boundaries between religion and government within the military.”

In Afghanistan, the Al Jazeera news service reported that sights with the Christian references had been distributed to some Afghan soldiers and that this would provide the Taliban with a propaganda coup.

In its statement on Thursday, Trijicon said it would immediately “stop putting references to Scripture on all products manufactured for the U.S. military” and would provide kits for removing lettering on existing weapons. The company said it would follow the same policy for purchases by other national militaries.

“Our decision to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate,” said the statement by Stephen Bindon, the company’s president.

The Army said in a statement on Thursday afternoon that it “was unaware of these coded biblical references until several days ago.” The statement added, “It is not the policy of the Army or the Department of Defense to put religious references of any kind on its equipment.”

The Marine Corps also issued a statement saying that it did not know about the biblical references, adding, “We are making every effort to remove these markings from all of our scopes and will ensure that all future procurement of these scopes will not have these types of markings.”

Trijicon specializes in advanced telescopic rifle sights that provide enhanced vision in low light, and it sells products to hunters and law enforcement agencies as well as to the military.

The company makes no secret of its Christian roots; the statement of corporate values on its Web site says: “We believe that America is great when its people are good. This goodness has been based on biblical standards throughout our history and we will strive to follow those morals.”

Among the passages referred to on gun sights was John 8:12, which, in the New Standard Revised edition of the Bible quotes Jesus as saying: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Another, Second Corinthians 4:6, reads: “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”