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(RNS) A Michigan military contractor said Thursday (Jan. 21) it will remove encoded scripture references on weapons it builds for U.S. military after a firestorm of complaints arose from both believers and atheists.
“Trijicon has proudly served the U.S. military for more than two decades, and our decision to offer to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate,” said Stephen Bindon, president and CEO of Trijicon Inc., which is based in Wixom, Mich.
“We want to thank the Department of Defense for the opportunity to work with them and will move as quickly as possible to provide the modification kits for deployment overseas.”
ABC News’ “Nightline” reported Monday (Jan. 18) on the biblical references on weapons used by soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq after learning about them from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group.
One rifle sight included the code “JN8:12,” a reference to the Gospel of John in which Jesus says, “He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Mikey Weinstein, founder of the watchdog group, hailed the decision by the Michigan company.
“Trijicon’s outrageous practice of placing Bible verse citations on military-issued gunsights for weapons was an unconstitutional disgrace of the highest magnitude to our military and an action that clearly gave additional incentive and emboldenment to recruiters for our nation’s enemies,” he said.
The military contractor said it took action “in response to concerns raised by the Department of Defense.”
The Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, urged President Obama on Thursday (Jan. 21) to launch a thorough investigation “aimed at creating guidelines that ensure that religion no longer plays an inappropriate role in our armed forces.”
Gaddy said the controversy affects soldiers regardless of their religious affiliation.
“Trijicon’s actions should be of concern to people of all faiths including Christians, but it is particularly appalling that soldiers who do not practice Christianity have been unknowingly wielding weaponry … that preaches the merits of a religion to which they do not adhere,” Gaddy said.
Faith in America, an online interfaith community, has asked its supporters to sign an online petition to the Pentagon.
“As Americans of faith, we call on our military leaders to remove weapons with religious markings as soon as possible,” the petition reads. “Putting religious messages on tools of war is an abuse of faith and threatens our security.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said the weapons are another example of a “crusade mentality” espoused by some Americans, who had earlier preached about a war against Christianity or included Bible verses on intelligence reports for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“Such twisted misuses of Christianity reflect badly on Christianity,” he said.
Kathleen Johnson, vice president and military director for American Atheists, said the religious inscriptions violate the First Amendment as well as military regulations.
“These rifle sights should be phased out of use as quickly as possible,” said Johnson. “The mission of the U.S. military cannot include proselytizing for Christianity or any other religion.”
Muslim groups had also written to the Pentagon decrying the encoded weapons, with the Muslim Public Affairs Council saying they are “unacceptable” and the Council on American-Islamic Relations seeking their withdrawal “as soon as logistically possible.”
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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