This guest post is by Anastasia Bodnar. She is a PhD student in Interdepartmental Genetics and previously served in the US Army for 8 years. If you’d like to contribute a guest post to the AAS blog, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Section 2k of the US military’s General Order 1B prohibits “Proselytizing of any faith, religion, or practice.” Full text PDF via Wikipedia entry on General Order 1. It’s a simple order that exists for not so simple reasons.
First, there are two reasons that focus on the rights of Americans, as laid out in the First Amendment. Service members, under the free exercise clause, have a right to practice their religion or no religion at all – when duty permits and within reason. Under the establishment clause, the military, both as a branch of the federal government and as service members performing official duties, may not put any religion above any other or over no religion. These together create a problem for people whose religion compels them to proselytize and/or convert, but that’s a subject for another post.
Then, there are reasons that focus on the rights of non-American allies. The US armed forces work and fight side by side with the armed forces of other countries every day. Some of these countries have religious demographics that aren’t as Christian centric as the US – such as Israel and Turkey. We also work closely with the armed forces of the countries that we have ongoing operations in – Iraq, Afghanistan, and South Korea to name a few. Assuming that we want to maintain positive working relationships with these people, members of our armed forces probably should avoid attempts to convert them.
Finally, there are national security reasons. For years, Muslim extremists have been using propaganda as a recruiting tool. This propaganda isn’t the almost-amusing-if-it-wasn’t-so-sad propaganda of North Korea, showing how beautiful their mountains are as an enticement for South Koreans to defect and join the great leader (the leaflets hadn’t changed much from 1990 to 2003 when I was stationed there). Instead, Muslim extremists all over the world are employing sophisticated videos from documentaries to rap-style music videos punctuated with images of US vehicles exploding and beheadings (see the FBI’s Analysis of Jihadi Extremist Groups’ Videos for an overview). The rap video here, called “Dirty Kuffar”, seems like an SNL skit in very poor taste, but it’s actually a recruiting video. Any tidbit from the news that might seem like nothing can be twisted into propaganda.
If you’re wondering why I’m writing this, maybe you haven’t yet heard of the “Jesus rifles”. Long story short, Trijicon Corp makes some of the best rifle scopes on the market, and they are a supplier to the US Army and US Marines. Inscribed on each scope next to the part number is a reference to a verse in the New Testament. It’s small, so the US military’s claim that they didn’t know might be true – except for the fact that the troops do know about it.
According to Biblical Gunsights…Forced to Look Down God’s Barrel on Daily Kos and ‘Jesus Scopes’ in Line of Fire on Military.com, Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation said he has received email complaints from troops about the verses. A letter (posted in full at Daily Kos and mentioned at Military.com) from a US Army soldier who happens to be Muslim refers to a chilling incident where a high ranking NCO tells the troops that the rifles have been “spiritually transformed into the Fire Arm of Jesus Christ” because of the bible quotes. The verses have also been known by at least some civilian users of the sights since at least 2006, according forum posts and videos collected into an article on TPMuckracker.
The bible citations probably count as propagandizing. They probably violate the rights of soldiers and Marines who have to use them. They probably risk our attempts at diplomacy with Muslims and probably offend Iraqis and Afghans who have to use the sights. But, I’ll leave all of that to the courts and investigators. What really concerns me is the potential for anti-US propaganda.
Under President George W. Bush, there were more than a few indications (intentional or not) that the invasion of Iraq was part of a holy war, a crusade. Little indications, like Bush calling the invasion a crusade in 2001: “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.” I’m not an expert in extremist rhetoric, but I imagine that it’s far easier to recruit mujahideen for a holy war when you can demonstrate, even with small things, that the enemy is fighting a holy war against you.
This is just another example of how religious extremists can put people into danger, no matter their religion. Of course, the mujahideen are actively, purposefully killing people and the crusaders for the most part are just bumbling into a holy war – but they both result in getting people killed. I have to wonder if the people over at Trijicon Corp are the type of Christians that are actively working to fulfill the preconditions of revelations to hasten the second coming. How is it possible that they don’t know the ramifications of what they have done?
Update 21 Jan @ 9am: The scopes make many Christians and non-Christians uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. There is at least one petition to remove the citations from the sights on the basis of faith itself. While any religion can be used badly, we as secularists have to remember that there are many people of faith who use their religion to further peace. For those people, these citations could be deeply offensive. The petition at Faithful America, being promoted by Faith in Public Life, reads:
As Americans of faith, we call on our military leaders to remove weapons with religious markings as soon as possible. Putting religious messages on tools of war is an abuse of faith and threatens our security.
Update 21 Jan @ 2pm: In a stunningly fast response, Trijicon Corp has announced that they will not put the citations on any more scopes that are destined for govt use, they will remove the citations from any scopes that they have already produced but not yet shipped to the govt, and will provide kits that will allow removal of the citations from scopes already in the field. This is according to the ABC News article No more Jesus rifles.
This is good news for the separation of church and state, but it’s too late. Recruiters for mujahideen aren’t going to make the distinction between the crusader government putting bible quotes on rifles and a crusader corporation that makes equipment for the opposing government.