Washington (AFP) Jan 21, 2010
A US firm sought to quiet a controversy over coded Biblical references inscribed on gunsights used by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan Thursday, announcing it was providing the military with kits to remove them.
Muslim and religious freedom groups have reacted angrily after it emerged that Trijicon has contracts to supply over 800,000 of the gunsights to the US military.
Critics charged that the company was putting US troops in danger in Muslim-majority nations where the US military presence is already bitterly resented.
The Wixom, Michigan company said it has inscribed references to the New Testament on the metal casings of its gunsights for over two decades.
But it said it would supply the military with 100 kits "to enable the removal of the references that are already on products that are currently deployed."
Among the coded inscriptions were JN8:12, an apparent 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."
The company currently has a multi-year, 660-million-dollar contract with the US Marine Corps and other contracts with the US Army to supply the scopes.
Just under 300,000 of the gunsights are currently fielded, 220,000 by the marines and between 70,000 and 75,000 by the army, a Pentagon official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Trijicon said it had taken the step "in response to concerns raised by the Department of Defense" and to "ensure the war-time production needs of the troops are met as quickly as possible."
The Pentagon said earlier it was "disturbed" after reports emerged this week about the inscriptions. The Marine Corps and the Army have launched a review.
The practice appeared to be a direct violation of a US Central Command general order issued after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that strictly prohibits "proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice."
Besides providing kits, the company said it would remove the Biblical references on all US military products that have not yet been shipped and stop inscribing them on gunsights in the future.
It also offered other international military forces using its products -- which include the British military and the New Zealand defense forces -- the option to remove the references.
"Trijicon has proudly served the US military for more than two decades, and our decision to offer to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate," Trijicon president and CEO Stephen Bindon said in a statement.
Army spokesman Gary Tallman earlier told AFP that "we were unaware of these coded biblical references until several days ago," adding that the service branch currently has about 100,000 of the scopes in its inventory.
"It is not the policy of the Department of Defense to put religious references of any kind on its equipment."
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