Painting of Jesus at Merchant Marine Academy moved to chapel amid Jewish complaints

Republicans decry ‘woke’ decision that ends longstanding dispute between conservatives and religious freedom advocates

A before and after photo depicting how a painting of Jesus at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, is now obscured by a curtain. (Before: U.S. Coast Guard; After: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.)
A before and after photo depicting how a painting of Jesus at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, is now obscured by a curtain. (Before: U.S. Coast Guard; After: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.)

JTA — A large painting of Jesus will be moved out of a room at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York, and mandatory events will not take place in its presence.

That decision by the academy, announced on Friday, concludes a dispute over the painting’s fate that pitted religious freedom advocates against conservatives. The religious freedom advocates objected to non-Christian midshipmen being forced to look at the painting. The painting’s defenders saw calls to remove it as an example of progressive overreach.

The 10-foot by 19-foot painting, “Christ on the Water,” also known as “Jesus and Lifeboat,” depicts Jesus hovering over a lifeboat full of stranded sailors. It now hangs in an administrative building in the academy on Long Island. Objections to the painting were less about its imagery and more about a number of mandatory events held in its room, including one of the most grueling for midshipmen: adjudicating whether they had violated the honor code.

Jewish midshipmen and others complained about the painting’s placement last month. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a group that advocates for service members who are concerned about facing backlash for complaints, asked the academy to move the painting into the academy’s chapel.

The admiral who runs the academy, Joanna Nunan, said the painting was too big to move. But she had an alternative solution, one that pleased the 26 complainants: She installed curtains that would be drawn over the painting during mandatory events in the room, but would be pulled back at other times.

Nunan and the academy faced significant pushback for that decision from Republican lawmakers who wrote angry letters to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg demanding that he reverse the decision.

“Covering this painting isn’t about ‘constitutional concerns,’ it is just the latest example of the Left’s woke agenda,” Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, a Republican who is running for Senate, told Fox News.

On Friday, the academy announced another change. The painting would be moved to the chapel — the very suggestion originally put forward by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. (“Victory!” declared a release from the Foundation.)

That would take a while, the academy’s statement said, so in the meantime, the room would not be used for any mandatory event, including honor code reviews.

“In balancing our responsibility to foster a community of mutual respect and adhere to the law, we have decided to discontinue use of the Elliot See Room for official business,” the statement said. “The Room will remain available to members of our community who wish to view the painting. Finally, we will engage a vendor to clean and restore the painting and eventually display it at the Academy’s Chapel.”

A separate Academy statement to Fox News said the academy would also “remove the covering so members of our community may view the painting.”

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