- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2023

A wall-sized painting of Jesus will be moved from a conference room at the United States Merchant Marine Academy to the school’s chapel following weeks of protests from alumni and a group opposed to public-area expressions of Christianity on military bases.

“Christ on the Water,” has been displayed in the Elliot M. See Room, once the King’s Point, New York, school’s interfaith chapel, since 1947.

In 1961, a new chapel was opened and the room was used for meetings and events, including student disciplinary hearings.

“We have decided to discontinue use of the Elliott See Room for official business,” a USMMA statement said. “We will engage a vendor to clean and restore the [“Christ on the Water”] painting and eventually display it in the Academy’s Chapel.”

Beginning in January, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation — a nonprofit that often lodges complaints about what it calls “Christian nationalism” and evangelical-themed public displays on military bases — lobbied for the removal of the painting. The group said it had complaints from 17 students and faculty at the school protesting the painting’s placement in a room where students of various faiths might be seated for disciplinary hearings.

The group said Monday that number had grown to 26 individuals. The group declined to name them over fears of intimidation, and said the painting was an illegal “establishment” of religion with an implicit favoring of Christianity.

After the initial complaints, Vice Admiral Joanna M. Nunan, the school’s superintendent, issued a statement saying the painting would be covered with a sheet. Today’s decision removes the room as a meeting place for official hearings and will eventually relocate the artwork.

In two separate letters this month, five congressmen wrote requesting the painting be uncovered. According to MRFF research director Chris Rodda, Reps. Mike Garcia, California Republican, Mark Green, Tennessee Republican, August Pfluger, Texas Republican, and Warren Davidson, Ohio Republican, wrote to Adm. Nunan asking her to reverse her decision.

Ms. Rodda said Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican, wrote separately to Transportation Department Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging him to overturn the decision. Unlike the other services, the Merchant Marine is administered by the transportation agency.

The MRFF released an email from Ailan Chubb, who said she is a 1983 USMMA graduate, saying “the Academy is now demonstrating a deep commitment to unit cohesion, to its midshipmen, faculty and staff. I believe the midshipmen will learn a great deal from this and be better leaders as a result.”

The Washington Times has reached out to the Merchant Marine Academy for comment.

Correction:  This article has been corrected to reflect Ailan Chubb as female. 

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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