Jim Banks calls on Buttigieg ‘to correct’ covering of Jesus artwork at Merchant Marine Academy

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) is urging Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to take action regarding the reported covering of a piece of artwork depicting Jesus that is displayed at the Merchant Marine Academy.

Banks, who is running for Indiana’s open Senate seat in 2024, sent a letter to Buttigieg, saying that reports indicated that the painting entitled “Christ on the Water” was covered “to create a ‘welcoming environment.'”

“The piece, titled ‘Christ on the Water,’ was designated a heritage asset by the Maritime Administration and has significant historical value,” Banks said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill on Monday. “The painting depicts an image of Jesus and merchant seamen adrift in a lifeboat during World War II.”

“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,” he continued. “This painting has conveyed hope and inspiration to nearly every class of midshipmen to come through the Academy.”

He asked that Buttigieg “act immediately to correct this,” since the Merchant Marine Academy falls under his jurisdiction.

Banks cited a Supreme Court ruling in 2019, saying that religious symbolism in historic displays does not violate the Constitution. He also added that more than 4,000 community members of the academy, including midshipmen and alumni, signed a petition demanding that the covering be removed and a plaque be added to demonstrate the historical significance, according to the letter.

“I support their request and believe 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-Sanctioned Desecration of Non-Christian Veterans,'” he said in the letter, which was first reported by Fox News.

The Academy originally received a complaint about the painting in January, according to an administration spokesperson, saying that the location of the painting was previously used as the interfaith chapel between 1942 and 1961.

Since then, the room was used by officials and midshipmen for events and meetings, and was used for official proceedings regarding Honor Code violations in the Maritime Academy. 

The Academy evaluated this complaint “in light of applicable law, our desire to protect the painting, and our overarching goal of fostering a community of common values, mutual respect, and an appreciation of the contributions of each individual,” according to the spokesperson.

They initially covered the painting with a curtain that “could be easily moved” so that people could still view the paintings during non-government use, they said, adding that the Elliot See conference room – where the painting was hung – will now be closed for official use. 

The room will instead be open so members of the community can view the painting.

—Updated Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 11:57 a.m.

Tags Jim Banks Jim Banks Pete Buttigieg Pete Buttigieg Religion

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