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Military Memorial Painting of 'Christ on the Water' Gets Covered Up - Guess Why

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A painting known as "Christ on the Water" at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in King's Point, New York, has been completely covered up after a secular group demanded its removal. The memorial is in a room that was formerly the academy's interfaith chapel but has been used for official business.

The anti-religion Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) complained, suggesting the painting in the Elliot See Room in the academy's main administration building sent an improper message of preferred faith in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. 

The MRFF claims they made the request on behalf of 26 clients. In a statement, the group said they had originally demanded the religious painting be moved to a more constitutionally appropriate location such as the USMMA Mariners Chapel.

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The 10-foot by 19-foot painting, also known as "Jesus and Lifeboat," was painted in 1944 by noted marine artist Lt. Hunter Wood, USMS, to hang in the chapel built at the USMMA Basic School in San Mateo, California. The painting depicts an image of Jesus and merchant seamen adrift in a lifeboat, presumably after being torpedoed in the Indian Ocean during World War II. 

The painting was done to commemorate over 9,000 merchant marines who lost their lives in 1942.

USMMA Superintendent Vice Admiral Joanna Nunan responded to the MRFF's demand by having the painting covered with a white curtain while plans were made on how to move it due to it being an alleged religious endorsement.

But academy alumni and members of Congress responded to Superintendent Nunan's move, demanding that the Jesus painting be uncovered for viewing. 

First, four House Republicans who attended the U.S. military academies, U.S. Reps. Mike Garcia (R-CA), Mark Green (R-TN), August Pfluger (R-TX), and Warren Davidson (R-OH), wrote a letter to Nunan arguing the painting hanging in a public room is constitutional. They cited Van Orden v. Perry, a 2005 decision allowing the display of the Ten Commandments on government property.

U.S. Rep. James Banks (R-IN) also sent his own letter to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, urging him to "immediately correct" the USMMA decision to cover the painting. 

Late last month, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) also told Vice Admiral Nunan in a letter that the painting is perfectly in keeping with the Establishment Clause. 

"The relevant constitutional question is whether the Academy's display of the painting meets the requirements of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  As a longstanding display that is consistent with the history and tradition of the United States and its Maritime Service, it clearly does," the Texas senator wrote.  

"Under the Supreme Court's standard for longstanding government displays, the painting is perfectly in keeping with the Establishment Clause. Your decision to move it, and to discontinue use of the conference room it presently is located in, is regrettable and suggests you believe a painting that tens of thousands of Midshipmen, faculty, staff, and visitors have viewed for more than half a century is now suddenly unconstitutional," Cruz continued.

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The outrage about the painting being covered also spread to USMMA midshipmen, alumni, and community members. More than 4,500 signed a petition demanding the historic artwork be uncovered and a plaque describing the historical significance of the painting be placed alongside it.

The Dr. James Dobson Family Institute (JDFI) also joined with those who sought the painting to be uncovered. 

In a statement, Gary Bauer, senior vice president of public policy for the organization said: "JDFI condemns the increasing attempts by radical secularists to erase the Christian heritage of America. We join members of Congress and concerned citizens in calling for the censorship of the painting 'Christ on the Water' to end immediately."

Painting to Be Restored, Eventually Moved to Academy's Chapel

In an updated statement on the academy's website, the USMMA said it had decided to discontinue the use of the Elliot See Room for official business. The painting will be uncovered and the room will be made available for members of the academy's community who wish to view it. 

In addition, the academy said it would have a professional clean and restore the painting which will eventually be displayed at the school's chapel. 

However, several midshipmen at the academy recently blamed left-wing politics that have allegedly infiltrated the school for the problem with the Jesus painting. 

John Guettlein, a 2022 graduate of the academy, told Fox News the Jesus painting situation is a symptom of woke-ism that is "absolutely" infiltrating the USMMA.

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of