“Secret Bible Codes” on Military Weapons

The latest “breaking scandal” on religion and the military is nearly laughable.  In short:

  • Trijicon has a well-known reputation for building high quality weapons sights.
  • The US military contracted with them to buy their commercial rifle sights.
  • The company includes an abbreviated Bible reference in the model name on the sight.
  • ABC News reported that Michael Weinstein has called these “Jesus rifles.”

This “controversy” is so contrived as to be ridiculous.  However, if you’d like to read more, what follows is a cross-section of the comments made and the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind them.   

The ABC News article on which this controversy is based is an example of poorly researched and sensationalist journalism.  Take the first sentence:

Coded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ are inscribed on high-powered rifle sights provided to the United States military by a Michigan company, an ABC News investigation has found.

That’s not entirely accurate, nor does it convey the entire picture.  First, the references are “coded” only in the sense in which every Bible verse is “coded:” with abbreviated book, chapter, and verse.  The title of the article calls them “secret,” which is ludicrous given that the company is known for the practice; internet discussions dating back to 2006 among owners of the sights discuss the “Easter egg” quality of the reference.  (Public knowledge of the practice varies; some have had the sights for years and never noticed; others seem to have always known the company’s practice.)  ABC News later admitted this when it referenced those same internet discussions in a follow-on article; the reason it referenced them was an attempt to paint the military’s lack of knowledge of the inscriptions–which ABC News had just called “secret codes”–as unbelievable.

Second, the Michigan-based company readily admits placing abbreviated references to Bible verses on its merchandise, which includes the sights; according to owner websites, references are from the Old and New Testaments, and their common theme is light, not Jesus.  Some owners say they have Isaiah 60:1, Psalm 112:4, and Psalm 27:1 on their Trijicon products, which are all from the Old Testament.  (These verses are described as being on Trijicon products, but not necessarily the ASOG scopes the military has ordered.)  The company is making a clever connection with its sights, which work on fiber optic and light enhancement technology.

The article then makes a reference to military regulations:

U.S. military rules specifically prohibit the proselytizing of any religion in Iraq or Afghanistan

which has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the inscription on or use of the sights on these rifles.

ABC News includes a quote from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s Michael Weinstein, who claims elsewhere that it was the MRFF, not ABC News, that “discovered” and “broke” the story:

“It’s wrong, it violates the Constitution, it violates a number of federal laws.”

ABC News does not ask Weinstein to explain how it violates the Constitution, nor to cite the federal laws to which he refers.

Of course, there is no federal law governing what letters a civilian company puts on its merchandise, and there is no federal law that governs whether or not the US military can purchase said merchandise.  As a private company, Trijicon cannot violate the Constitution.  The military has said that it didn’t know about the Bible references, and even if it did, there’s no Constitutional prohibition on purchasing the sights with any particular text on them.  Weinstein, who is a lawyer, provides no legal explanation for his accusation; in fact, he admits his own double-speak:

“As a private company, they can do whatever they want to,” Weinstein said, adding that most of the blame lies with the Pentagon. “But when you become a defense contractor, you have certain responsibilities.”

The accusation is illogical, of course, but it is obtuse enough that no one has called Weinstein out on his self-contradictory statements.  Oddly, ABC News contributor Major General William Nash (USA, Retired) also had a seemingly self-defeating discussion on the original broadcast on ABC’s Nightline:

[Voice over:] A Trijicon spokesman said there was nothing wrong or illegal about adding the Biblical references to the military’s sights.

[General Nash:] “Well, that’s fine, but I find something wrong with it, and I think our government should find something wrong with it…”

Weinstein’s next quotes, however, are classic:

“It allows the Mujahedeen, the Taliban, al Qaeda and the insurrectionists and jihadists to claim they’re being shot by Jesus rifles,” he said…Coded biblical inscriptions play into the hands of “those who are calling this a Crusade…”   “We’re emboldening an enemy.” 

Notwithstanding Weinstein’s poor choice of descriptors, his concern for the feelings of those attacking, and thus being shot by, US Soldiers is touching.  Somehow, though, the enemy is probably more likely to claim they’re being shot by bullets than “Jesus rifles.”  The objective of specialized military equipment is to provide the best technology to US troops in their fight against the enemy, regardless of the enemy’s feelings on the matter.

Worse still is Weinstein’s biased characterization of the situation.  Regardless of what one thinks about the sights or their engravings, characterizing the use of the sights as “Jesus rifles” is prejudicial and harmful.  His prejudice shows when he assigns fault to a specific faith:

It’s literally pushing fundamentalist Christianity at the point of a gun against the people that we’re fighting.

Such a statement is riddled with problems, of course, not the least of which is the fact that “fundamentalist Christians” do not have exclusive use of the referenced Bible verses.

Weinstein’s sentiment is shared, however, by Dr. Ed Buckner of American Atheists:

the U.S. military is promoting Christianity, literally with the barrel of a gun.

Both men fail to explain how a Soldier (of any faith) using the sight (which, by all accounts, is a superb sight) is somehow “pushing…Christianity” as opposed to, say, defending himself and killing the enemy.  In addition, the New Testament references no more make the weapons “Jesus rifles” than the Old Testament ones make them some form of “Jewish rifle” (since the references are found in the Torah).

Perhaps that’s a question worth asking, though, since the Israeli Defense Force also reportedly uses the Trijicon sights, without complaint.  While Weinstein continues to harp about perceptions of a “crusade,” US adversaries are more often concerned about America’s alliance with Israel, not Christianity.

Despite Weinstein’s accusations, if the military didn’t even know about the engravings, then not a single soldier ever filed a formal complaint.  The same is true for the British and the Israelis, who also use the sights.

Again, despite Weinstein’s accusations, there is no indication that US adversaries even knew about the references, never mind being “emboldened” by them.  He also appears to give them far more credit than most.  He assumes that US adversaries:

  • have access to an expensive US military rifle sight by this specific manufacturer
  • can read (Afghanistan’s literacy rate is 28%, according to the CIA)
  • can read English
  • know enough about the English-language Bible to recognize an abbreviated reference at the end of a string of letters and numbers
  • either have the reference memorized or have access to a Bible or Torah; and
  • are offended by the presence of that reference.

(That last point is a particularly important assumption, since many Muslims are more offended by a lack of religiosity (or anti-religiosity) than they are of those who hold to a religious faith, even if it is not Islam.)

Weinstein’s entire thought process is farcical.  If any damage has been done to American forces, it has been done by an American citizen’s announcement to the world that US Soldiers are using “Jesus rifles,” not by the military’s acquisition of a rifle sight.  (Weinstein’s penchant for colorful semantics has caught on, with other sites repeating the “Jesus rifle” term; most ignore, of course, the fact that it’s a sight, and not a rifle, that bears the reference.)

The US military has had a mixed response thus far, with ABC News saying the US Marines “are concerned,” though a CENTCOM spokesman said

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.

The same spokesman dismissed claims about proselytizing:

[Maj John] Redfield of CentCom [sic] 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.”

No law, regulation, policy, or guidance prohibits Trijicon from putting the reference on the sight.  Likewise, nothing prohibits the US military from purchasing them.  In years of production and years of combat, not a single person (friend or foe) has ever lodged a public complaint about the sights.

Weinstein claims credit for “breaking” a story that does nothing more than attempt to besmirch an American manufacturer and the US military.  The only saving grace is that a large number of people see this for what it is: a contrived controversy based on a biased and selective outrage.

There is one positive statement from the bellicose Weinstein.  Never one to avoid the extreme, he says:

This is probably the best example of violation of the separation of church and state in this country.

As others have noted, if this is the best example he can come up with, things must not be that bad after all.



New Zealand also has the sights, and has said they will remove the references.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council has protested, and asked the DoD to “immediately withdraw from combat use equipment found to have inscriptions of Biblical references.”


The Council on American-Islamic Relations made a similar demand:

“The use of military equipment with hidden Bible references sends the false message to Muslims worldwide that we are at war with Islam,” said CAIR Legal Counsel Nadhira Al-Khalili. “In addition, these sights are a potential recruiting tool for anti-American forces, endanger our troops and alienate our Muslim allies. They should we withdrawn as soon as logistically possible.”

al Jazeera picked up the story, and, as noted above, used Michael Weinstein’s mischaracterization to claim that the military was fielding weapons with the inscriptions (emphasis added):

US-made rifles inscribed with Bible codes are being used by US forces and Afghans to fight the Taliban.

The weapons come from Trijicon…