Defence firm halts 'Biblical' rifle sights

An American defence contractor said today it would stop stamping Bible references on combat rifle sights sold to the US Army and Marines and the Australian and New Zealand military.

In Britain, the Ministry of Defence had bought 400 of the sights for the Army's Sharpshooter assault rifle, unaware of the Biblical references.

The references to Bible passages raised concerns that the citations broke a US government rule that bars proselytising by American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, which are predominantly Muslim countries.

In a statement, Trijicon of Wixom, Michigan, said it was also providing free modification kits to the armed forces to remove the citations from the telescopic sights already in use.

The US Marine Corps and US Army have bought more than 300,000 Trijicon sights.

A spokesman for US Central Command initially said the Trijicon sights did not break the ban and compared the citations on the sights to the "In God We Trust" inscription on US currency.

But yesterday Army general David Petraeus, Central Command's top officer, called the practice "disturbing".

"This is a serious concern to me and the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan," General Petraeus told an audience at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

In a statement issued later, General Petraeus said "cultural and religious sensitivities are important considerations in the conduct of military operations".

New Zealand announced yesterday that it would remove the citations from the sights and Australia is considering the situation.

The inscriptions are not obvious 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 hit the troops' target.

Markings on the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, which is standard issue to US 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."

Photos posted on a Defence Department website show Iraqi forces training with rifles equipped with the inscribed sights.

The Rev Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said in a letter sent to President Barack Obama yesterday that the gun sights "clearly violate" the rule against proselytising.

Mr Gaddy added that "images of American soldiers as Christian crusaders come to mind when they are carrying weaponry bearing such verses".

Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said he had received complaints from current and retired members of the military.

The company's 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.

"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," Stephen Bindon said.

The company is also making the same offer to military in other countries that have purchased Trijicon's rifle sights.