Republican Rep. Jim Banks (Ind.) has called for Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to take action after a historic painting depicting Jesus Christ accompanying merchant seamen lost at sea during World War II was covered up at the Merchant Marine Academy to allegedly create "a welcoming environment."
Since the USMMA falls under Buttigieg's purview, this apparent act of intolerance is his to rectify.
Jesus hidden from view
Prior to upbraiding Buttigieg Monday for his significant delay in addressing the "toxic disaster" in East Palestine, Ohio, Banks wrote to the secretary concerning the concealment of the painting entitled "Christ on the Water."
According to the USMMA, the 10'x19' 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 is a heritage asset under the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration.
The Christian Post reported late last month that the massive 1944 painting by U.S. Maritime Service Lt. Hunter Wood — who fought in the war — was hidden away after an activist group from New York complained with iconoclastic vigor.
Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, wrote to USSMA Superintendent Vice Admiral Joanna Nunan, demanding that she "expeditiously remove a massive, sectarian painting illustrating the supremacy of Jesus Christ" from the Elliot M. See Room inside Wiley Hall.
"The outrageousness of that Jesus painting’s display is only further exacerbated by the fact that this room is also used regularly for USMMA Honor Code violation boards where midshipmen are literally fighting for their careers, and, often even more, as they face the shameful ignominy of potential expulsion with prejudice if found guilty of USMMA Honor Code violations," wrote Weinstein.
Weinstein claimed his organization represented 18 midshipmen, faculty, staff, and graduates at the academy in the appeal.
Weinstein told the Christian Post that the complainers "quite correctly believe that the display of the 'Jesus painting' is totally violative of the clear time, place and manner requirements of the No Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution," adding that "it's as though USMMA is screaming that 'Jesus Christ is the only approved solution to all of life’s difficulties.'"
In response to the censorial request, the academy — which supplies some officers to the U.S. military, at least 70% of which is Christian — issued a statement, noting it had "taken immediate steps to respond to the constitutional concerns related to a painting hanging in the Elliot See Conference Room in Wiley Hall."
"When deciding on a solution to the concerns raised, the Academy explored multiple options to comply with the law while seeking to balance the interests of everyone in our community," said the statement. "Our priority is to ensure the Academy is a welcoming environment for all and that it respects all religions without endorsing one over any others."
The statement revealed that the academy had resolved ultimately to "cover the painting with curtains, and ... also install a plaque describing its history."
To protect the sensibilities of those possibly offended by the image of Jesus Christ, the curtains will remain closed during meetings and events. In such instances, persons interested in the painting can simply read about the hidden historical asset on the plaque.
USMMMA alum Peter Lynch launched a petition in the aftermath of the academy's capitulation to unveil the painting, which has garnered over 4,000 signatures.
The petition states it "is an historic painting that has conveyed hope and inspiration to nearly every class of midshipmen to come through the Academy. The painting is part of the legacy of the institution and has been present in Wiley Hall undisturbed since 1947. In addition, the decision to add a covering is against legal precedent set by the Supreme Court for historic displays which include religious symbolism."
Lynch noted in an update, "Under the Constitution the superintendent did not have to cover it. She chose to do so. If her decision was made in hostility to religion, it was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."
"The original complaint against the painting appears to have been made long before this year. Since that time no other superintendent has made any changes with regard to the painting, and have respected its historic significance. The new superintendent's action is not supported by the Kings Point community and we are seeking appropriate means to have her decision reviewed," Lynch added.
Fox News Digital reported that in Banks' recent letter to Buttigieg, taking up the cause to thwart the iconoclasts at USSMA, the Indiana congressman wrote, "Between 1939 and 1945, 9,521 merchant mariners lost their lives — a higher proportion than those killed in any military branch, according to the National World War II Museum. ... This painting has conveyed hope and inspiration to nearly every class of midshipmen to come through the Academy."
Banks referenced a 2019 Supreme Court ruling that "historic displays with religious symbolism are not a violation of the constitution."
The Supreme Court had voted 7-2 to reject a challenge to a 40-foot, government-maintained Christian cross erected in memorial to Christian soldiers lost in the First World War, reported Politico.
In the court's opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the "Bladensburg Cross has expressed the community’s grief at the loss of the young men who perished, its thanks for their sacrifice, and its dedication to the ideals for which they fought. It has become a prominent community landmark, and its removal or radical alteration at this date would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of 'a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions.'"
Banks intimated that Wood's painting of "Christ on the Water" would similarly be protected.
Banks asked that Buttigieg "act immediately to correct this," underscoring that "there is ample evidence that previously established legal precedent negates the 'constitutional concerns' of an anti-Christian activist who is so extreme that he has described the Wreaths Across America program as 'the Annual Government-Sanction Desecration of Non-Christian Veterans.'"
Fox News Digital revealed that while Christian imagery has been hidden from sight, sexual secular idolatry is permitted at the academy. Ahead of the concealment of the historic painting, the USMMA was plastered with LGBT propaganda and still boasts a rainbow mural in the main causeway.
The Hill noted that Buttigieg, who spent part of Monday telling a crowd that there were too many white workers on construction sites, has yet to comment on the matter.
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