After an ABC News report that secret Bible messages are encoded on gun sights used by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least two other countries that also use the equipment in Afghanistan are now considering what action to take.
A spokesperson for New Zealand's Defence Force told the New Zealand newspaper The Press that the coded citations on Trijicon scopes were "inappropriate" and would be removed. A spokesperson for Britain's Ministry of Defence told the BBC that the ministry was contacting Trijicon, was unaware of the markings at time of purchase, and understood that the markings might be considered offensive.
Major Kristian Dunne of the New Zealand Defence Force said his country's military was unaware of the Bible references and "unhappy" to learn of them from the media.
"It's put us in an uncomfortable situation," Dunne told The Press. "We can see how they would cause offense." Dunne said that in addition to removing the codes from its 260 existing scopes, New Zealand would ask Trijicon to remove the code from future weapons
According to the BBC, the British military recently ordered 480 Trijicon ACOG sights, and is already using versions of the ACOG sight.
As ABC News reported Monday, Michigan-based Trijicon has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army.
The sights are used by U.S. troops and in the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers. The model numbers inscribed on the scopes include coded references to New Testament verses.
U.S. military rules specifically prohibit the proselytizing of any religion in Iraq or Afghanistan and were drawn up in order to prevent criticism that the U.S. was embarked on a religious "Crusade" in its war against al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents.
A Marine Corps spokesperson told ABC News Tuesday that the Corps was concerned about the markings and considering what action to take. "We are aware of the issue and are concerned with how this may be perceived," Capt. Geraldine Carey, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps, said in a statement. "We will meet with the vendor to discuss future sight procurements." Carey said that when the initial deal was made in 2005 it was the only product that met the Corps needs.
'In God We Trust'
However, a spokesperson for CentCom, the U.S. military's overall command in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he did not understand why the issue was any different from U.S. money with religious inscriptions on it.
"The perfect parallel that I see," said Maj. John Redfield, spokesperson for CentCom, told ABC News, "is between the statement that's on the back of our dollar bills, which is 'In God We Trust,' and we haven't moved away from that."
Said Redfield, "Unless the equipment that's being used that has these inscriptions proved to be less than effective for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and military folks using it, I wouldn't see why we would stop using that."
One of the citations on the gun sights, 2COR4:6, is an apparent reference to Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament, which reads: "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."
Other references include citations from the books of Revelation, Matthew and John dealing with Jesus as "the light of the world." John 8:12, referred to on the gun sights as JN8:12, reads, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Trijicon confirmed to ABCNews.com that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military. Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon, which is based in Wixom, Michigan, said the inscriptions "have always been there" and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them.
Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is "not Christian." The company has said the practice began under its founder, Glyn Bindon, a devout Christian from South Africa who was killed in a 2003 plane crash.
On Monday, spokespeople for the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps both told ABC News their services were unaware of the biblical markings. On Tuesday, Redfield of CentCom told ABC News that the inscriptions did not violate the directive against proselytizing. "This does not constitute proselytizing because this equipment is not issued beyond the U.S. Defense Department personnel. It's not something we're giving away to the local folks."
'It Violates the Constitution'
A photo on a Department of Defense Web site shows Iraqi soldiers being trained by U.S. troops with a rifle equipped with the bible-coded sights.
"It's wrong, it violates the Constitution, it violates a number of federal laws," said Michael "Mikey" Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group that seeks to preserve the separation of church and state in the military.
"It allows the Mujahedeen, the Taliban, al Qaeda and the insurrectionists and jihadists to claim they're being shot by Jesus rifles," he said.
Weinstein, an attorney and former Air Force officer, said many members of his group who currently serve in the military have complained about the markings on the sights. He also claims they've told him that commanders have referred to weapons with the sights as "spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ."
He said coded biblical inscriptions play into the hands of "those who are calling this a Crusade."