The New Zealand Defence Force will remove abbreviated references to Bible verses from US-made gun sights used by its forces in Afghanistan, saying they were "inappropriate" and could be used in enemy propaganda.
Military chiefs said they were unaware that inscriptions on the Trijicon advanced combat optical gunsights, also used by US and British troops, included references to verses in the Bible until alerted by a newspaper.
The markings, which are in embossed lettering at the end of the stock number, include "JN8:12" – a reference to John 8:12: "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,’" The Press paper in Christchurch reported Thursday.
Defence Force spokesman Major Kristian Dunne told the paper: "We can see how they would cause offence. Everyone has freedoms of religious belief. It also could be used against us by other religions."
He said the military was unhappy that the US manufacturer had not advised them about the inscriptions and they would be told not to put them on further orders.
The letters and numbers would be removed from the Defence Force’s existing 260 gun sights, which had been in use since 2004, and soldiers would continue using them because they were the best of their kind, he said.
An investigation by US broadcaster ABC first uncovered the Biblical references printed in small type that at first glance appear to be part of the stock number. US military officials said they were unaware of the markings and would discuss what, if anything, to do about them.
Some US groups that advocate for the separation of church and state expressed concern that the inscriptions could be a violation of the US Constitution.
News reports in the US quoted Tom Munson, Trijicon’s director of sales and marketing, as saying the biblical references were first put on the gun sights nearly 30 years ago by company founder, Glyn Bindon, who died in a plane crash in 2003.
"We don’t publicize this," he said. "It’s not something we make a big deal out of. But when asked, we say, ‘Yes, it’s there.’"
The rifle sights use tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, to create light and help shooters hit their targets.