The colossal Christian canvas now dominates the Elliot M. See room within Wiley Hall, the Academy’s administrative building — the room in which are held, among other things, Midshipmen Honor Boards, at which midshipmen are defending themselves against alleged honor violations. Just imagine being a non-Christian USMMA midshipman in that already agonizing situation, with your whole future hanging in the balance, and then throw in a giant Jesus hanging over the proceedings to make it even more distressing. Especially to non-Christian USMMA midshipmen, faculty, and staff who find themselves in this room for other, less dire reasons, the looming lord and savior of Christians might as well be a great big neon sign saying, “You really don’t belong here.”
To the pleasant surprise of MRFF, USMMA’s superintendent, Vice Admiral Joanna M. Nunan, who just took the helm at the Academy a little over a month ago, responded last evening, thanking MRFF for contacting her about this matter and telling MRFF that she planned to have the painting covered with a curtain, and that no mandatory meetings or Honor Boards would be held in the room until the work was completed. The painting could not be moved, she explained, because it is too large to be put anywhere else.
Like the military service academies, the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) offers its midshipmen a free, government-paid education. In exchange for this free education, an after-graduation commitment of working five years in the United States maritime industry with eight years of service as an officer in any reserve unit of the Armed Forces or five years on active duty in any of the nation’s Armed Forces is required. And, although USMMA is under the auspices of the Department of Transportation rather than the Department of Defense, USMMA midshipmen graduate with an officer’s commission in the U.S. Armed Forces just like their counterparts at the military service academies. In other words, many future U.S. military officers are trained at USMMA.
The following was the demand letter emailed by MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein to Vice Admiral Nunan, copying Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg:
From: Michael L Weinstein <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: URGENT! U.S. Constitutional Civil Rights Violation Under Your Direct Command
Date: January 10, 2023 at 4:57:27 PM MST
Vice Admiral Joanna M. Nunan
United States Maritime Service
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Kings Point, New York
Dear Vice Admiral Nunan,
My name is Mikey Weinstein, and I am the Founder and President of a large civil rights advocacy organization known as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).
MRFF is presently representing 17 United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) midshipmen, faculty, staff, and graduates regarding the blatantly outrageous matter of unconstitutional Christian domination, triumphalism, and exceptionalism, as specifically detailed below.
For the record, MRFF’s clients on this matter at USMMA, most of whom are under your direct command, are Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist, and Native American Spiritualist.
I come to you this day to demand that the USMMA, which you currently command as its Superintendent, expeditiously remove a massive, sectarian painting illustrating the supremacy of Jesus Christ from the so-called “Elliot M. See Room” located inside of Wiley Hall, which serves as an administrative building at USMMA.
I am sure that you are quite well aware of that particular painting, ma’am.
In this regard, please see the E-Mail directly below my E-mail to you from a USMMA graduate serving as the leader of the group of MRFF clients in this most unfortunate matter.
Admiral Nunan, I don’t want to belabor the brutally obvious point that this extremely large painting of Jesus is absolutely antithetical and destructive, as it is currently displayed, to the maintenance of good order, morale, discipline, and unit cohesion at USMMA, especially to non-Christians under your command.
I’m not going to offer you a free clinic on the germane Constitutional law attendant to this sordid matter. However, I will tell you that the law here always focusses on 3 major anchors of analysis: time, place and manner.
Indeed, the time, place, and manner in which this enormous painting of Jesus is currently being displayed is egregiously violative of all accepted time, place, and manner legal mandates.
MRFF is hereby demanding on behalf of its 17 aggrieved USMMA clients that this Jesus painting be immediately removed from its present situs to another place at USMMA where its display is in full accord with the salient time, place, and manner requirements of American Constitutional law, such as the USMMA Mariners Chapel as mentioned in the E-Mail from the USMMA graduate below.
Admiral Nunan, you apparently have a background in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and thus, MRFF appeals to your good faith, rationality, and reason to see how utterly untenable it is for you to continue to allow the display of that sectarian Christian supremacy painting in Wiley Hall.
To the credit of the Department of Defense (DoD), it banned the display, anywhere worldwide, on its military installations of the noxious Confederate flag about 2 and half years ago because DoD correctly recognized how such a display wretchedly eviscerates good order, morale, discipline and unit cohesion within its ranks.
We understand that USMMA and the USMS are not part of DoD but are instead under the control of the Department of Transportation (DOT). We seriously doubt that DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg, copied above, would be very pleased to know the time, place and manner in which USMMA is presently displaying that sectarian Jesus supremacy painting.
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.
Oh, I could go on and on, Admiral, but the consequential facts here speak for themselves.
I realize that you only took over command of the Academy about a month ago. Nevertheless, it is surely a shame that the command climate at USMMA is seemingly toxic enough to preclude those faculty, midshipmen, staff, and graduates under your command, and others similarly situated, from raising their civil rights grievances about this Jesus painting internally. Truly, they felt they could not do so without facing the very real likelihood of extremely serious blowback from you and/or your senior USMMA leadership.
Their genuine fear of reprisal is why they came to MRFF for help.
MRFF will stand by to receive your answer to our demand, on behalf of our 17 USMMA clients, that USMMA is removing that non-secular Jesus painting from its current illicit location to another location at USMMA where Constitutional law will be satisfied by its prominent display, such as the aforementioned USMMA Mariners Chapel.
Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq.
Founder and President
Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF)
From: MRFF Client's/U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Graduate’s E-Mail Address Withheld
Subject: Request help from Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
Date: January 10, 2023 at 1:25:34 PM MST
To: Mikey Weinstein
I am an alumnus of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) located in Kings Point, New York. I am writing on behalf of a group of aggrieved Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Native American, atheist and agnostic USMMA midshipmen, alums, staff, and faculty requesting MRFF's help concerning the painting of Jesus standing over a lifeboat in the Elliot M. See room within Wiley Hall, the administrative building at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. We choose to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, retribution, and retaliation from USMMA leadership, Maritime Administration leadership, and Department of Transportation leadership.
The painting of Jesus standing over an open lifeboat carrying survivors of a sunken merchant ship has hung in the Elliot M. See room for decades denigrating non-Christians. Its location in the administration building implies that the Academy officially endorses Christianity over other faiths. It marginalizes non-Christian members of the Academy. In addition, the Elliot M. See room serves as the backdrop for Midshipmen Honor Boards, creating a hostile atmosphere for non-Christian midshipmen defending themselves against alleged honor violations. The painting does not ensure a diverse, equitable, or inclusive environment for non-Christian USMMA midshipmen, graduates, staff, or faculty.
The Superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is Vice Admiral Joanna Nunan, United States Maritime Service, a U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduate and retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral. While in the Coast Guard, she served as Vice Chair of the United States Coast Guard Academy Board of Trustees and was also that body’s Diversity and Inclusion Chief, helming efforts to increase diversity and inclusion within the U.S. Coast Guard. Her background provides the experience and knowledge to ensure a welcoming, diverse, equitable, and inclusive Academy. We implore her to immediately rectify the painting’s location. Anything else is completely unacceptable.
We want the painting moved to the USMMA Mariners Chapel to ensure an inclusive Academy experience for all faiths and non-faith traditions. We look forward to the Academy and Superintendent's quick action on this matter. Some members of this group are new MRFF clients, and some are prior MRFF clients; we thank you for everything you do and your support in ensuring Constitutionally-guaranteed religious freedom.
A graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
Please withhold my name and personal information
This was Vice Admiral Nunan’s response:
Dear Mr. Weinstein,
Thank you for reaching out to me on this matter. I had already identified similar concerns with this painting, and I am taking steps to address it. First, I have asked my staff to purchase a curtain to be placed in front of the painting. This will completely block the painting from view, but also allow those who wish to view it the opportunity to do so. Second, I have asked the Director of the American Merchant Marine Museum to prepare a plaque that explains the history of the painting, which will be installed near it. Given the size of the painting, there is no other location to which it can be moved.
I ask your patience as the Academy takes these necessary and appropriate steps. I assure you that no meetings with mandatory attendance, including Honor Board hearings, will be held in the conference room until this work is complete. And I commit to providing you with confirmation once completed, including a picture.
Again, I sincerely appreciate you bringing the concerns of those you represent to my attention.
VADM Joanna Nunan, USMS
U. S. Merchant Marine Academy
And this was Mikey Weinstein’s reply to Vice Admiral Nunan’s response:
From: Michael L Weinstein
Subject: URGENT! U.S. Constitutional Civil Rights Violation Under Your Direct Command
Date: January 10, 2023 at 9:25:23 PM MST
To: "Nunan, VADM Joanna"
Cc: Secretary Buttigieg
…..copy that, Admiral….
…..On behalf of MRFF and our 17 midshipmen, faculty, staff and graduate clients at USMMA, we thank you for the swift reply, Admiral Nunan…
.....especially at such a late hour on a weeknight, where you are located in New York, and after having just received our demand message only about 3 hours earlier…
…...the specific ameliorating steps and plans you outlined below to remedy this unconstitutional debacle are acceptable to MRFF and our clients…
…..Admiral, you have asked for our “patience” and we understand why you did so……however, I am sure that you also reasonably understand that it is VERY hard for those who have been viciously oppressed for so many years, with their basic civil rights being continuously, openly and notoriously violated, to just sit back quietly for an institution like USMMA to actually follow through in a timely manner as you have graciously described below ……
…….Leo Tolstoy has a great quote about this precise request you have made for “patience”; “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”…..however, Abraham Lincoln also opined in this regard, “I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”
…..MRFF and its clients at USMMA will grant your respectful request for the “warriors” of some quantity of patience and time here but I can assure you that we will NEVER “walk back” to allow the prior decades of disastrous display of that Jesus supremacy painting to wreak havoc upon those at USMMA who cannot fight back without exposing themselves and their families to hideous institutional revenge, retaliation reprisal and retribution at the Academy ….
……in this regard, we DO ask two things of you please, Admiral; (1) approximately how MUCH time should we expect to pass here before the curtain and plaque are acquired and put into place?….and, (2) we presume that you have already made it crystal clear to all of those under your command at USMMA that absolutely NO mandatory meetings will ever be held in that room again until at least such time that the curtain you propose is properly installed?
….again, MRFF and our USMMA clients appreciate what you have expeditiously confirmed to us on the record here….
……we respectfully await the answers to our 2 queries above, Admiral Nunan…
………with gratitude, Mikey Weinstein/MRFF 505-250-7727
[As of the time of this posting, MRFF has not heard back from Vice Admiral Nunan, although fully expecting to.]