Some U.S. soldiers appear to have launched an initiative to convert thousands of Iraqi citizens to Christianity by distributing Bibles and other fundamentalist Christian literature translated into Arabic to Iraqi Muslims.
A recent article published on the website of Mission Network News reported that Bible Pathway Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian organization, has provided thousands of a special military edition of its Daily Devotional Bible study book to members of the 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, currently stationed in Iraq, the project "came into being when a chaplain in Iraq (who has since finished his tour) requested some books from Bible Pathway Ministries (BPM).”
“The resulting product is a 6"x9" 496-page illustrated book with embossed cover containing 366 daily devotional commentaries, maps, charts, and additional helpful information," the Mission Network News report says.
Chief Warrant Officer Rene Llanos of the 101st Airborne told Mission Network News, “the soldiers who are patrolling and walking the streets are taking along this copy, and they're using it to minister to the local residents.”
"Our division is also getting ready to head toward Afghanistan, so there will be copies heading out with the soldiers," Llanos said. “We need to pray for protection for our soldiers as they patrol and pray that God would continue to open doors. The soldiers are being placed in strategic places with a purpose. They're continuing to spread the Word.”
Karen Hawkins, a BPM official, said military chaplains "were trying to encourage [soldiers] to be in the Word everyday because they're in a very dangerous situation, and they need that protection."
That would appear to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibiting government officials, including military personnel, from using the machinery of the state to promote any form of religion. The book’s cover includes the logos of the five branches of the armed forces giving the impression that it’s a publication sanctioned by the Pentagon.
The distribution of the Bibles and Christian literature comes on the heels of a report published Wednesday by McClatchy Newspapers stating that U.S. Marines guarding the entrance to the city of Fallujah have been handing out “witnessing coins” to Sunni Arabs entering the city that read in Arabic on one side: "Where will you spend eternity?” and "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16" on the other.
A Pentagon spokesman said he was unaware of the issue involving the distribution of coins and Bibles and declined to comment.
The issue comes at a particularly sensitive time for Sunnis who recently clashed with U.S. military in an area west of Baghdad week after an American soldier was found to have used a Koran, the Islamic holy book, for target practice. Following a daylong protest by Iraqis that threatened to turn violent, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond issued a public apology to Sunnis in the area.
"I come before you here seeking your forgiveness," Hammond said. "In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers."
The soldier who shot up the Koran was disciplined and removed from duty in Iraq.
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the government watchdog agency The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), said the religious intolerance among U.S. military personnel calls for a federal investigation.
"The shocking actions revealed just last week of American soldiers in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan callously using the Koran for automatic weapons "target practice" is absolutely connected to the same issues of national security breach wrought by our United States armed forces proselytizing the local populations via the distribution to them of fundamentalist Christian coins, bibles, tracts, comics and related religious materials written in Arabic," Weistein said.
"The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been acutely aware of such astonishing unconstitutional and illicit proselytizing in Iraq and Afghanistan for over three years now and knows how massively pervasive it really is. These proselytizing transgressions are all blatant violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and MRFF is now demanding that any and all responsible military personnel be immediately prosecuted under Failure to Obey an Order or Regulation," Weinstein added.