NZ army to remove Bible citations from armaments
Wellington (New Zealand): Biblical citations inscribed on U.S.-manufactured weapon sights used by New Zealand`s troops in Afghanistan will be removed because they are inappropriate and could stoke religious tensions, New Zealand said Thursday.
The inscriptions on products from defense contractor Trijicon of Wixom, Michigan, came to light this week in the U.S. where Army officials said Tuesday they would investigate whether the gun sights — also used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq — violate US procurement laws.
Australia also said Thursday its military used the sights and was now assessing what to do.
Trijicon said it has had such inscriptions on its products for three decades and has never received complaints about them before. The inscriptions, which don`t include actual text from the Bible, refer numerically to passages from the book.
New Zealand defense force spokesman Maj. Kristian Dunne said Trijicon would be instructed to remove the inscriptions from further orders of the gun sights for New Zealand and the letters would be removed from gun sights already in use by troops.
"The inscriptions ... put us in a difficult situation. We were unaware of it and we`re unhappy that the manufacturer didn`t give us any indication that these were on there," Dunne said. "We deem them to be inappropriate."
The Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight rifle sights used by New Zealand troops, which allow them to pinpoint targets day or night, carried references to Bible verses that appeared in raised lettering at the end of the sight stock number.
Markings included "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," the King James version reads.
Dunne said New Zealand`s defense force has about 260 of the company`s gun sights, which were first bought in 2004, and will continue to use them once the inscriptions are removed because they are the best of their kind.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the government was not aware of the inscriptions when the defense force bought the equipment.
"Now we are in discussions with the company in the United States who will ensure the inscriptions are removed, and we wouldn`t want them on future sights," he told reporters.
Earlier, Defense Minister Wayne Mapp said with New Zealand soldiers in Muslim countries, the Bible references could be misconstrued.
"We all know of the religious tensions around this issue and it`s unwise to do anything that could be seen to raise tensions in an unnecessary way," he said.
Trijicon said it has been long-standing company practice to put the Scripture citations on the equipment. Tom Munson, Trijicon`s director of sales and marketing, said the company had never received complaints until now.
"We don`t publicize this," Munson said in a recent interview. "It`s not something we make a big deal out of. But when asked, we say, `Yes, it`s there.`"
Trijicon said biblical references were first put on the sites nearly 30 years ago by the company founder, Glyn Bindon, who was killed in a plane crash in 2003. His son Stephen, Trijicon`s president, continued the practice.
The references have stoked concerns by critics in the U.S. about whether they break a government rule that bars proselytizing by American troops. But U.S. military officials said the citations don`t violate the ban and they won`t stop using the tens of thousands of telescoping sights that have already been bought.
The Australian Defense Department, which with 1,550 troops in Afghanistan is the largest contributor to that campaign outside NATO, said Thursday that it also used the sights but had been "unaware of the significance of the manufacturer`s serial number."
"The Department of Defense is very conscious of the sensitivities associated with this issue and is assessing how to address these as soon as practicable," the department said in a statement.
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