USMMA Covers 79-Year-Old Painting of Jesus with a Sheet
A recent decision made by the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) to cover up a 10-foot by 19-foot painting has prompted a furious response from House Republicans. The image depicts Jesus and merchant mariners floating in a lifeboat, “presumably after being torpedoed in the Indian Ocean during World War II.” The painting was covered by a white sheet at the request of 26 people.
The USMMA, which is the smallest of the five Military Federal Service Academies and located in Kings Point, New York, was “founded in 1943 to prepare merchant marine officers for military service during World War II.” It now trains midshipman to attain the role of officer in the U.S. Merchant Marines or U.S. Armed Forces, or prepares them for the transportation industry.
The piece, entitled “Christ on the Water,” was crafted by Marine artist Lt. Hunter Wood in 1944 and was hung in the chapel at the USMMA Basic School in San Mateo, California. Once the San Mateo campus closed, the painting was transported to the USMMA’s headquarters and placed in the Elliot M. See Room, which served as the interfaith chapel from 1942 to 1961. The Room then changed operations to host faculty, staff, and midshipmen for mandatory meetings and events. The painting had been on display for decades before having the sheet draped over it, even after it was no longer used as USMMA’s chapel space.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s founder, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, was quick to demand the painting’s removal. “While [academy members] are fighting for their lives, their reputation, etcetera, they have to look up at something like that [the painting],” he said in a statement following the complaint. “Clearly, this is in direct violation of diversity, equity, and inclusion.” In an updated press release from the USMMA, branch officials claimed the painting was “an improper message of preferred faith” and violates “the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.”
On January 10, Weinstein sent a letter to USMMA Superintendent Joanna Nunan suggesting the painting be moved to the chapel, to which she responded, “Given the size of the painting, there is no other location to which it can be moved.” She compromised by asking her staff to “purchase a curtain to be placed in front of the painting.”
“The leadership of the Kings Point, New York, Merchant Marine Academy are making a serious mistake by covering up a WWII painting of Jesus to ostensibly appease a small group of disgruntled alumni and faculty,” said Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin.
In response to the academy’s censorship of “Christ on the Water,” Representative Jim Banks (R-Ind.) sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg requesting he reverse course as the painting “has conveyed hope and inspiration to nearly every class of midshipmen to come through the Academy.” Four other congressmen wrote letters to Nunan requesting she uncover the painting.
“Covering this painting isn’t about ‘constitutional concerns,’ it is just the latest example of the Left’s woke agenda,” Banks told Fox News.
In sharp contrast to Banks’s view, Weinstein described the painting as a showcase of the “supremacy, the domination, the exclusivity, the exceptionalism, the triumphalism of Jesus.”
Banks is not the only one advocating for the removal of the curtain. “There is overwhelming support among the student body to keep the painting on public display,” said Boykin. An undisclosed USMMA graduate expressed his concern of the incident in an email to Weinstein:
“The picture of a life boat being saved has been up for a prolonged period and falls in-line with the history of the U.S. Merchant Marine, the founding of the Merchant Marine Academy, and represents a strong majority of it’s students and Alumni. Based on that and the freedom of expression or speech, the pictured has never been an issue until a new superintendent took the position. You cannot make rules or actions based on exceptions. 17 complaints falls in-line with being an exception. The majority of all people from diverse backgrounds have not taken issue with this painting. 17 people? Quite a large statement for 17 people.”
His letter concluded with the request that Weinstein “reconsider the position of freedom of expression and speech among the hundreds of people that take issue with your actions.”
After receiving this email, Weinstein sent this scathing response:
“You are incredibly blinded, and no doubt so, because of a number of various ‘privileges’ you were possibly born with and never earned … by the way, the number of MRFF clients we have on this matter is not 17 it is 18 [the number has since grown to 26]. … Maybe do a little more research before you start spewing your maladroit, uneducated crap!” He ended his email just as acrimoniously: “Open your prejudiced, hateful, bigoted, and imperious eyes a little, perhaps, sport?”
The USMMA insists it values “opinions of all in our community” and emphasized its commitment “to making the Academy a better place.” To settle the ongoing disagreement, USMMA compromised by installing a plaque that describes the history of “Christ on the Water.” This decision did not last long, however, and on Monday, the academy announced that it would stop using the Elliot M. See Room for business and move the painting into the chapel.