January 21, 2010
The Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
I write to you out of deep concern regarding the recent revelation that a military contractor has been placing coded biblical references on gun sights used by soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I was happy to hear that this incident will be scrutinized, I remain concerned that this episode is only the latest in a long line of violations of the boundaries between religion and government within the military. I respectfully ask that you direct the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to conduct a thorough investigation aimed at creating guidelines that ensure that religion no longer plays an inappropriate role in our armed forces.
The Bible verse-inscribed telescopic gun sights clearly violate a government rule prohibiting proselytizing. These weapons are being used by American soldiers not only to root out terrorists but also to train Afghan and Iraqi soldiers; images of American soldiers as Christian crusaders come to mind when they are carrying weaponry bearing such verses. This incident simply adds to the perception that religion rather than national security is at the heart of our military’s presence abroad. In recent years, we also have seen Department of Defense reports using biblical verses as cover pages and soldiers stationed in Afghanistan distributing Bibles.
The original response of U.S. Central Command did nothing to raise my confidence in this matter. A spokesman likened this incident to the presence of “In God We Trust” on our currency. The comparison between a New Testament inscription and the more universal phrase found on the dollar bill is deeply troubling. The verses chosen by Trijicon for their telescoping sights are testaments to the saving power of belief in Jesus Christ, and are clearly sectarian in nature.
One of the greatest, and arguably most unifying, aspects of being an American is that we are not all members of the same religious tradition or, indeed, of any religious tradition at all. The same holds true for the men and women serving in our armed forces. Trijicon’s actions should be of concern to people of all faiths including Christians, but it is particularly appalling that soldiers who do not practice Christianity have been unknowingly wielding weaponry in service to their country that preaches the merits of a religion to which they do not adhere. It is equally troubling that these men and women will continue to have their beliefs ignored and belittled in this manner until this situation can be rectified.
As our Commander-in-Chief, I hope you will:
- •Direct the Secretary of Defense to institute policies that ensure national security while continuing our historic, constitutional mission to protect freedom – not promote religion.
- •Review and revise the military’s procurement process to ensure that contractors are told they may not imbed religious messages in military equipment.
- •Ensure that the government will halt purchases from Trijicon until assurances have been given that the equipment will be free of any sectarian statements.
- •Direct the Secretary of Defense to ensure that telescopic sights manufactured by Trijicon with these engravings are rapidly phased out in favor of weaponry that does not promote religion in any way.
Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a long list of ways in which military leaders have promoted the perception that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are “us vs. them” conflicts on a religious level, and of the sad state of religious freedom in our military. The investigation would benefit the nation best if it goes even deeper than this most recent incident.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
cc: The Honorable Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Honorable Carl Levin, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair
The Honorable John McCain, Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member
The Honorable Buck McKeon, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member
The Honorable Ike Skelton, House Armed Services Committee Chair
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.