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U.S. Military Still Using "Jesus rifles" in Afghanistan

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It's not official policy, but with Internet access a 12-year old child anywhere in the Islamic world could construct, with relative ease, a plausible conspiracy theory claiming that the United States had invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, and was wielding its military, diplomatic, and soft-power in the Middle East and elsewhere, to combat Islam and advance a global Christian empire.

The continued use, per a breaking NBC story, of the infamous "jesus rifles" by U.S. troops in Afghanistan matters not only because it endangers U.S. troops by needlessly inflaming religious hatreds; for Muslims who suspect a Western war on Islam, it's yet another data point to plug in. As NBC's Kari Huus reports,

When the so-called "Jesus rifle" came to light in Jan. 2010, it sparked constitutional and security concerns, and a maelstrom of media coverage. The Pentagon ordered the removal of the secret code referring to Bible passages that the manufacturer had inscribed on the scopes of the standard issue rifles carried by U.S. soldiers into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan... ...The code stamped into the metal of the soldier’s ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) ends with the model number with "JN8:12." which refers to the New Testament passage, John 8:12, which reads: "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."

The gunsight, produced by the Michigan company Trijicon, can also feature code referring to scripture from the Biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Corinthians, and Revelations.

When the story first broke in 2010 General David Petraeus, then-Head of Central Command overseeing U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, declared use of the "jesus scopes" to be "contrary to U.S. Central Command guidance." The United States military must be "sensitive to the cultural and religious norms of the populace we are supporting," stated Petraeus.

But David Petraeus himself has sent mixed messages. The 2005 evangelical Christian book Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel, which claims that "Under the rubric of free speech and the twisted idea of separation of church and state, there has evolved more and more an anti-Christian bias in this country", featured a spirited endorsement from General Petraeus, whose plug appeared on the book's back cover, "Under Orders should be in every rucksack for those moments when Soldiers need spiritual energy".

Since 2005, former Reagan Administration lawyer Mikey Weinstein's Military Religious Freedom Foundation (note: I was employed by MRFF in 2007) has been uncovering one case after another of similar abuses. MRFF's media archives are bursting with stories documenting improper evangelizing in the U.S. military, a number of which were showcased in journalist Jeff Sharlet's gripping story Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military.

Sharlet's story opens with an incident that occurred in 2004, in the Iraqi holy city of Samarra. One early evening, as the Muslim call to prayer commenced from minarets throughout the city, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, with "Jesus killed Mohammed" spray painted in Arabic on its side, in giant red letters, rolled through Samarra as an Iraqi interpreter shouted, from the Bradley's turret through a bullhorn, over and over again, "Jesus killed Mohammed! Jesus killed Mohammed!"

As Sharlet described, the pattern extends up to the command level of the Pentagon where, in 2005, a sub-ministry of Campus Crusade For Christ called "Christian Embassy" filmed a promotional video, within the Pentagon, that included the participation of four generals, including then-Acting Secretary of the Air Force Pete Geren.

But the same year Sharlet's story appeared in Harpers, it was revealed, in stories from GQ magazine and the New York Times, that the evangelical Christian messaging went much higher.