The U.S. Marines Corps said it is concerned about the secret Bible codes embossed on gun sights used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics warn that the codes could incite Muslim extremists who are already convinced that the U.S. is waging a religious war in Muslim countries.
In a statement to ABC News, which broke the story earlier this week, a spokesperson for the Marines said the military body is discussing the issue with the sight manufacturer.
"We are aware of the issue and are concerned with how this may be perceived," said Capt. Geraldine Carey. "We will meet with the vendor to discuss future sight procurements."
Michigan-based manufacturer Trijicon engraves hard-to-see Bible passage references on its optical sighting devices. At the end of a series of numbers and letters is a Bible reference – such as JN8:12, 2COR4:6 – which can be easily overlooked as part of the stock number. The Bible references carry the common theme of Jesus being the light of the world. There is no biblical text on the sights, only numerical references to passages.
Trijicon, founded by a Christian originally from South Africa, has confirmed the engravings to ABC News. However, the Michigan-based company noted that it does not promote the Bible codes and only acknowledges they exist when asked. The company also said it has produced its devices with Bible references since its founding and has never received a complaint on the issue before.
In response to the controversy, the U.S. military said it was unaware of the Bible verses when it bought the equipment from the company.
Several other countries that purchase Trijicon-made instruments, valued for their accuracy over long range, reacted with shock this week when they heard about the religious references.
Military spokespersons for New Zealand, Australia and Britain, which all use Trijicon sights, say they are discussing how to react, including how to remove the markings without damaging the equipment.
In the U.S., several groups have complained.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council wrote in a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "Allowing religious references to be placed on U.S. weaponry, which are bought and paid for by U.S. taxpayers, is unacceptable.
"Such inscriptions not only run afoul of the constitution and U.S. military rules, but they also feed into the violent extremists' narrative that the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are a 'crusade against Islam.'"
MPAC calls on the U.S. government to remove all weapons with such religious reference from combat use.
Likewise, Al Jazeera correspondent in Kabul, David Chater, said the engravings on the weapons are a "rallying cry for the Taliban. It gives them a propaganda tool," according to Al Jazeera.
"They've always tried to paint the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan as a Christian campaign," Chater said.
The U.S. Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group that promotes the separation of church and state in the military, warns that the weapons also put soldiers in danger because captured troops could be accused of proselytizing the Muslim population in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"It's got to stop," said Michael "Mikey" Weinstein, founder and president of MRFF, the group that first alerted ABC News on the markings, to Agence France-Presse. "It's wrong on a million levels."
"This is massively endangering the lives and well-being of our members of the military," said the former White House legal counsel in the Reagan administration.
Experts, however, have said the Bible references do not constitute as proselytizing because the weapons are not given out to members of the local community.
Military commanders on the field say they want to continue to use the sights since the inscription is barely noticeable and Trijicon produces the most advanced aiming systems available today.
Correction: Friday, January 22, 2010:
An article on Thursday, January 21, 2010, about the U.S. Marines Corps being concerned over Bible verse references on some of its gun sights incorrectly reported that Trijicon makes firearms. The company manufactures optical sight devices for firearms.