Muslim groups reacted angrily Wednesday after it emerged that the U.S. military is using combat rifle sights inscribed with coded Biblical references.
Army officials have said they will investigate whether a Michigan defense contractor violated federal procurement rules by stamping references to Bible verses on the gun sights used by American forces to kill enemy fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations on Wednesday said the continued use of the sights with the religious references would send a negative message to the Muslim world.
"The use of military equipment with hidden Bible references sends the false message to Muslims worldwide that we are at war with Islam," said CAIR Legal Counsel Nadhira Al-Khalili. "In addition, these sights are a potential recruiting tool for anti-American forces, endanger our troops and alienate our Muslim allies. They should we withdrawn as soon as logistically possible."
The Marine Corps, another major customer of the telescoping sights that allow troops to pinpoint targets day or night, says service acquisition officials plan to meet with Trijicon to discuss future purchases of the company's gear.
"If determined to be true, this is clearly inappropriate and we are looking into possible remedies," Commander Darryn James, a Pentagon spokesman, told AFP.
The references have stoked concerns by a watch dog group about whether the inscriptions break a government rule that bars proselytizing by American troops. But military officials said the citations don't violate the ban and they won't stop using the tens of thousands of telescoping sights that have already been bought.
The codes were used as "part of our faith and our belief in service to our country," Trijicon said.
"As long as we have men and women in danger, we will continue to do everything we can to provide them with both state-of-the-art technology and the never-ending support and prayers of a grateful nation," a company spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
Trijicon said it has been longstanding company practice to put the Scripture citations on the equipment. Tom Munson, Trijicon's director of sales and marketing, said the company has never received any complaints until now.
"We don't publicize this," Munson said in a recent 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, which is standard issue to U.S. special operations forces, include "JN8:12," a reference to John 8:12: "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, 'I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,'" according to the King James version of the Bible.
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 commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," the King James version reads.
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 Trijicon 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 Quran were being inscribed onto these U.S. armed forces gun sights instead of New Testament citations," Weinstein said. The foundation is a nonprofit organization 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 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."
Capt. Geraldine Carey, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, said Tuesday in an e-mailed statement that "we are aware of the issue and are concerned with how this may be perceived." Carey said Marine Corps acquisition officials plan to meet with Trijicon to discuss future buys of the company's sights. The statement did not say what the nature of those discussions would be.
Gary Tallman, an Army spokesman, said the service was not aware of the markings. But Army acquisition experts will determine if Trijicon violated any procurement regulations, he said.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.