A decision to again refer to a Beaufort fighter jet squadron as the "Crusaders" has sparked complaints from a civil rights group that says the nickname is unconstitutional and will incite violence against U.S. forces abroad.
An attorney for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an Albuquerque, N.M. group, sent a letter Wednesday to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos, demanding that Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 stop using the name, which he said illegally blurs the lines between church and state.
The group also claimed the nickname and its emblem, which features a cross shield, will stir anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world because they evoke images of the Christian conquests during the Middle Ages.
"I don't know that the Marine Corps could do anything more to fuel the cause of jihad," Mikey Weinstein, the group's founder, told MSNBC. "It will directly end up taking lives and maiming members of our military."
Officials from VMFA-122 announced last month that the unit would again be known as the "Crusaders," a moniker used by the unit beginning in 1958 but discontinued in January 2008 before a combat deployment to Iraq.
The squadron's name was changed back to its World War II-era nickname, the "Werewolves," in part, because unit commanders thought the name might be considered inflammatory.
The unit's commanding officer told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette last week that the recent name change was meant to honor the unit's history.
A spokeswoman for Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort said the base hasn't been contacted by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. She said the name Crusader pays homage to the type of fighter plane once flown by the unit.
"The nickname 'Crusader' that the squadron re-adopted references the F8U-1 Crusader aircraft the squadron began to fly in 1957, not a religious conquest," said Lt. Sharon Hyland, base spokeswoman.
Weinstein told MSNBC that "dozens" of military members, including at least one Marine in VMFA-122, have contacted his organization, claiming that the decision was religiously motivated.
"They're being told, 'The enemy gets to have Allah in their fight. We need to get our Lord and Savior back into our fight,' " Weinstein said.
Hyland denied those claims.
"At no time did any commander ever state that the squadron's name change was an effort to bring any specific religious beliefs (or) ideologies into a foreign land, or into a war," Hyland said.