In the wake of the revelation by ABC News that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were being supplied with rifle sights adorned with references to New Testament Bible verses, Trijicon, the Michigan based contractor that manufactures the sights, has agreed to stop putting the references on products supplied to the military.
(See the initial report from ABCNews.com and the Nightline segment from Monday night.)
In a press release issued by Trijicon on January 21, the company stated that it will do the following to remedy what many view as an egregious mixing of religion and the military, as well as an offense to the Christian religion:
- Remove the inscription reference on all U.S. military products that are in the company's factory that have already been produced, but have yet to be shipped.
- Provide 100 modification kits to forces in the field to remove the reference on the already forward deployed optical sights.
- Ensure all future procurements from the Department of Defense are produced without scripture references.
Trijicon will provide the same remedy to foreign militaries that have purchased their products. Maj. Kristian Dunne, a spokesman for the New Zealand defense force, one of the foreign militaries currently using the sights, stated, "We were unaware of it and we're unhappy that the manufacturer didn't give us any indication that these were on there. We deem them to be inappropriate."
In a press release issued by CENTCOM, Gen. David Petraeus stated, "The codes on the scopes are contrary to U.S. Central Command guidance."
Another purchaser of Trijicon products, for use in Afghanistan, is the British military. The revelation that there were Bible verses on its country's weapons prompted the following statement from the Church of England, as reported by the The Guardian:
"It would be unfortunate if this practice by an arms manufacturer undermined the military effort in areas of the world where our forces are trying to bring long-term stability. People of all faiths and none are being killed and injured in these conflicts, on all sides, and any suggestion that this is being done in the name of the Bible would be deeply worrying to many Christians. The meaning of the Bible is to be found in reflective reading and prayer, not in sloganising and soundbites."
In a statement to ABC News, Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon, a company that states on its website, "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," said that there was nothing wrong with adding the Bible references, and that Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which initially raised the issue after receiving complaints about the sights from active duty service members, was "not Christian." Apparently, the Church of England must also be "not Christian," given that they also find the Bible references inappropriate. Tom Munson might also be surprised to learn that 96% of the service members who reach out to MRFF for assistance are actually Christians, but just not Christian enough or the 'right kind' of Christians for today's military.
In addition to being called anti-Christian for exposing the Bible verses, two other criticisms have been leveled at MRFF, both in comments on the many articles and blog posts on the story and in hate mail received by MRFF.
The first is that MRFF should have just gone to the military rather than the media. Well, MRFF actually did try to go to the military first, and only went to the media after attempts to get the military to deal with the issue had failed. In fact, it was one of the military officers contacted by MRFF who suggested that going to the media might be the only way to get the Pentagon to take any action.
The second is that nobody would have found out about the Bible verses if ABC News hadn't exposed them. This is simply not true. Many of our troops already knew about them, and there have been plenty of message board postings, as well as online videos, pointing them out. Interestingly, although Trijicon has been putting the Bible references on its products for many years, the widespread discussion of these references began in 2006, not long after the sights were put into wide use by the military. On one message board, a soldier even provided instructions on how to remove the reference after removing it from his own sight. The other common misconception is that the Iraqis and Afghans would never see the Trijicon sights closely enough to see the Bible references. This is also untrue, as is clear from photos released by the Department of Defense.
People have only seen one of the photos uncovered by MRFF showing an Iraqi holding a rifle equipped with a Trijicon sight -- the close-up of the Iraqi police officer first used by ABC News, and then picked up by pretty much everybody else reporting on the story. If this was the only such photo, it might be reasonable to wonder if it is only occasionally that an Iraqi or Afghan might casually happen to see one of these sights. But this is not the only such photo, and the captions for the other photos make it very clear that the Iraqis and Afghans are not just casually or occasionally getting a glimpse of these sights, but being actively trained with and supplied with them. There is no question from these photos that the Iraqis and Afghans are regularly looking at these sights closely enough to spot the Bible references.
Here are some of the other photos, followed by their original captions.
A U.S. Marine Corps Marine, left, assigned to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment (2/3 Marines), Regimental Combat Team 1, gives Provincial Security Forces (PSF) instruction on the M-16-A4 rifle in Karmah, Iraq, May 8, 2008, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 2/3 Marines are supervising ranges conducted by the PSF in order to familiarize themselves with weapons they will be using in the near future.
An Iraqi Police sergeant major gives marksmanship instructions to a fellow police officer at the indoor firearms range at the Iraqi Police training center in the Karada district of eastern Baghdad, Iraq, March 18, 2009.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Mollison, left, assigned to Division Training Cell, supervises as an Iraqi soldier tries out an M-16A4 rifle during a class on U.S. military weapons in Habaniyah, Iraq, June 1, 2005. The continued development of Iraqi Security Forces is part of the 2nd Marine Division mission in Iraq.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Mollison, assigned to Division Training Cell, shows Iraqi soldiers an M-4 carbine while conducting a class on U.S. military weapons in Habaniyah, Iraq, June 1, 2005. The continued development of Iraqi Security Forces is part of the 2nd Marine Division mission in Iraq.
As already mentioned, the investigation into Trijicon's rifle scopes was prompted by complaints received by MRFF from active duty service members. Here is an email received by MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein from one of those service members. Clearly, according to the account of this soldier, a very senior NCO not only knew about the Bible reference, but promoted it as making an ordinary rifle a "spiritually transformed into the Fire Arm of Jesus Christ." Worse yet, this brilliant NCO was yelling this out within earshot of Afghan civilians and military personnel.
To: Mikey Wenstein [sic] and MRFF:
I am a U.S. Army infantry soldier with the rank of (rank withheld). I am married with children. I am stationed at Fort (installation name withheld). I have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times. I have been awarded medals for direct combat engagement as well as for injuries and wounds received in hand-to-hand combat. I am a Muslim American. My family converted when I was very young. I am caucasian and have a last name that does not sound ethnic. Therefore, few of my fellow soldiers know that I am a Muslim. My wife comes from a Christian tradition but rarely practices or attends church. I have witnessed terrible religious persecution in the my (number withheld) years in the Army. Most of it comes from "angry" conservative Christians in my unit chains of command and occasionally from my fellow infantry soldiers. I am very familiar with the Trijicon ACOG gunsights and have often had them as part of my personal weapons; both my M-4 and my M-16. In my first 2 deployments I saw and experienced no incidents regarding the New Testament bible quotes that are written on the metal casing of the gun sights. Many soldiers know of them and are very confused as to why they are there and what it is supposed to mean. Everyone is worried that if they were captured in combat that the enemy would use the bible quotes against them in captivity or some other form of propaganda. As an American soldier I am ashamed that those bible quotes are on our primary weapons. As a Muslim American I am horrified. As one who swore his oath to the Constitution, I am driven to fight this Christian insanity but I know if I try to do so in a visible way that I will suffer at the hands of my military superiors. I am of low enlisted rank and can be crushed easily. I am prepared to suffer, but I am not prepared for my wife and children to suffer. So I have reached out to MRFF because there is nowhere else safe to go to try to fight this thing of disgrace. There are many other soldiers who feel as I do. Many are Protestant and Catholic and they fear reprisal just as much as I do for trying to stand up to the Christian bullies in uniform who outrank us. But if you try to fight back, you are not "asking" for trouble, YOU ARE IN TROUBLE from the start. And if you are a Muslim American, the hatred is always just below the surface and ready to explode at a moment's notice. After the Fort Hood shootings, it was so bad, even for a low profile Muslim like me, that I had to ask MRFF for help.
Nothing in my first 2 deployments prepared me for what happened with the Trijicon ACOG gun sights during my 3rd deployment to Afghanistan. I will never forget the day it occurred. It was morning and there was a mandatory formation of several companies. A very senior NCO was yelling at us which is not that unusual. He asked a private what it was that he (the private) was holding in his hand and the private said it was his "weapon" several times to which the senior NCO replied "and what ELSE is it"? FInally, the senior NCO said that the private's rifle was also something else; that because of the biblical quote on the ACOG gunsight it had been "spiritually transformed into the Fire Arm of Jesus Christ" and that we would be expected to kill every "haji" we could find with it. He said that if we were to run out of ammo, then the rifle would become the "spiritually transformed club of Jesus Christ" and that we should "bust open the head of every haji we find with it." He said that Uncle Sam had seen fit not to give us a "pussy 'Jewzzi' (combination of the word 'Jew' and Israeli made weapon 'Uzi') but the "fire arm of Jesus Christ" and made specific mention of the biblical quotes on our gun sights. He said that the enemy no doubt had quotes from the Koran on their guns but that "our Lord is bigger than theirs because theirs is a fraud and an idol". As a Muslim and an American soldier I was fit to be tied but I kept it in. There were many Afghans, both civilian and military, on base within earshot of what was being yelled at us and I can only wonder in shock what they must have thought. This senior NCO was apparently also the head person of a conservative, crazy Christian group called the "Christian Military Fellowship" and made a big deal about the importance of joining to everyone. He told us all that we MUST read a book called "Under Orders" in order to make it through this combat deployment and said he had many copies for everyone. Some of my friends went and got their copies. I refused. Finally, this senior NCO ended his yelling by warning us that if we did not "get right with Jesus" then our rifles would not provide spiritual strength despite the bible quotes on our ACOG gunsights and that we would be considered "spiritual cripples" to our fellow units and soldiers. He didn't say it in so many words, but the message was clear; if anything bad happened in a combat situation, it would be the fault of anyone who had not accepted Jesus Chris in the "right way". I have never felt so ashamed and scared in my life. I have never hated myself so much for not speaking out. So I thought of my wife and children and endured. Every time I looked at my rifle with that Trijicon ACOG gunsight/scope with the biblical quote from the book of John (8:12), it would make me sick. If I had tried to protest, it would have made me dead. And if I'm dead I'm of no use to my wife and children.
While Trijicon's decision to remove the Bible references is great news, it is only one step in the right direction. Back in September, I wrote a piece titled Top Ten Ways to Convince the Muslims We're On a Crusade, detailing the many ways in which our military has made us look like crusaders in a holy war against Islam. In the process of investigating the Trijicon issue, MRFF's research department uncovered even more examples. A photo of one of these examples was briefly shown during the Nightline report, and I want to end by explaining what that photo was.
The photo, taken in August 2009 at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Loyalty near Baghdad, was one of several photos released by the Department of Defense showing Iraqi Security Forces in training sessions conducted by the U.S. Army. The building where these training session were held appears to be used for a variety of purposes. And, what's on the wall right next to the screen on which the training presentation is being shown? A nice big cross, as tall as the soldier giving the presentation. Army regulations don't even allow symbols of any particular religion to be displayed in a chapel except when an actual worship service is in progress, yet here we have an impossible to miss cross not only being displayed, but being displayed in a multi-purpose building while the training of Iraqi troops is taking place.
Interestingly, as the following photo of another event held around the same time in the same building shows, the cross was not displayed while the Oakland Raiders cheerleaders were performing for the troops. Apparently, that would have been inappropriate.