From: (name withheld)
Date: January 19, 2023 at 10:01:57 AM MST
To: [email protected]
Subject: Picture of people in a lifeboat being saved at KP
The picture of a life boat being saved has been up for a prolonged period and falls in-line with the history of the U.S. Merchant Marine, the founding of the Merchant Marine Academy, and represents a strong majority of it’s students and Alumni. Based on that and the freedom of expression or speech, the pictured has never been an issue until a new superintendent took the position. You cannot make rules or actions based on exceptions. 17 complaints falls in-line with being an exception. The majority of all people from diverse backgrounds have not taken issue with this painting. 17 people? Quite a large statement for 17 people.
Please reconsider the position of freedom of expression and speech among the hundreds of people that take issue with your actions. I take issue with your action to promote the cover up a traditional piece that supports the history and traditions of our great country, the U.S. Merchant Marine, and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Taking away a significant piece of the foundation is causing issues with a majority of all stakeholders of USMMA.
Since you support people from all backgrounds, please support my position and a majority of the KP Community to remove the covering of a life boat being saved. I look forward to your response and support.
(name withheld), KP ’02
Response from MRFF Founder and President Mikey Weinstein
From: Mikey Weinstein <[email protected]>
Date: January 19, 2023 at 1:19:25 PM MST
To: (name withheld)
Subject: Re: Picture of people in a lifeboat being saved at KP
The tragic idiocy of you, sir, a USMMA graduate, trying to use pedestrian “mathematics” to justify this blatant violation of the Constitution reminds me of that great statement by the late Sandra Day O’Connor in an important First Amendment case, “In America, we don’t count heads before enforcing the First Amendment”… you are incredibly blinded, and no doubt so, because of a number of various “privileges“ you were possibly born with and never earned… by the way, the number of MRFF clients we have on this matter is not 17 it is 18… Maybe do a little more research before you start spewing your maladroit, uneducated crap?!…… It doesn’t matter if we had ANY clients because the number of objectors here is irrelevant under federal law… the display of that sectarian Jesus proselytizing painting is a classic example of a DIRECT violation of the no establishment clause of the First Amendment… Open your prejudiced, hateful, bigoted, and imperious eyes a little, perhaps, sport ?… (And I go by “Mikey“ and not “Michael“)…
Response from MRFF Board Member Marty Esquivel
From: Marty Esquivel
Sent: Thursday, January 19, 2023 1:17 PM
To: (name withheld)
Cc: Mikey Weinstein <[email protected]>
Subject: Your email to Mr. Weinstein
Dear (name withheld),
I am a Board Member of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Mr. Weinstein shared your email with me which includes a thought process that doesn’t really appreciate or respect the U.S. Constitution.
Just a hunch here, but you also strike me as an individual who is probably a near absolutist when it comes to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. If you took a vote, a majority of Americans would most likely determine it is pure ludicrousy to allow an 18-year to possess an AR-15 — far short of what our forefathers had in mind. Most would vote to ban such a right in addition to a multitude of other constitutional rights that Americans see differently based on their own convictions.
But, sir, constitutional rights don’t work on votes of preference, convenience or what suits you as acceptable based on your own perceptions of history. For some, it takes a lifetime to understand this. I hope you take time to read the case referenced by Mr. Weinstein which includes the passage from former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
It speaks volumes.
MRFF Board Member
Original emailer’s response to MRFF Board Member Marty Esquivel
From: (name withheld)
Date: Thu, Jan 19, 2023 at 12:33 PM
Subject: Re: Your email to Mr. Weinstein
To: Marty Esquivel
What does guns and the 2nd Amendment have to do with a picture on the wall with a lifeboat being rescued at sea? Did you just copy/paste a reply to me? That is insulting and it is wrong to assume my views on certain subjects. It is people like you who also stereotype people based on certain factors such as skin color, religion, and other values. This makes you the wrong person to push your views onto important government agencies, departments, etc.
At what point does one’s personal freedom of expression infringe on my personal freedom of expression? There is a historical reference to the picture that is being covered at Kings Point. We must not lose sight of our history good or bad because it may repeat. We must learn from it and not erase it or cover it with a piece of cloth.
Our country and the foundation of the laws were based on religion and religious principles. Does that mean that it infringes on people who don’t have a religion? Using your logic, does that mean the entire basis of our governmental system is not valid because it was based on religion? I do not agree with that, but your logic suggests that you don’t agree with the entire structure of our government.
Justic Sandra Day O’Connor believed in law and the constitution. I align with that. My original email to Michael aligns with Sandra Day O’Connor. You talking about guns has nothing to do with the subject I am concerned with and asking your organization to support, just like it is supporting other religious views.
Perception of history? Is there something that you know that I don’t about the U.S. Merchant Marine? I am considered an expert. Why are you stereotyping me that my knowledge is a perception vs. fact? If my perception of 2+2=4, are you going to claim it is a perception vs. fact? I am curious what your stereotype would be if I presented that. How would you describe that?
Response from MRFF Advisory Board Member Mike Farrell to original email
You misrepresent the picture in question by calling it a “Picture of people in a lifeboat being saved at KP.” The dominant figure in the painting is neither the people nor the lifeboat. Or did you miss that?
How is it that this picture “falls in-line with the history of the U.S. Merchant Marine, the founding of the Merchant Marine Academy,” etc.? What did Jesus have to do with either?
Your assertion that the above non-facts, plus the claim that it “represents a strong majority of its students and alumni” somehow means to you that this painting’s overtly Christian thesis is perfectly appropriate and belongs where it is, representing, as it therefor does, a branch of the United States Government’s military.
Needless to say, except perhaps, for you, this is directly contradicted by U.S. Military law and tradition.
Actually, I think you’ll find that many, if not most, Christians understand that the U.S. Constitution and its doctrine of the separation of church and state protect everyone’s right to believe as they choose and for that reason disallow overt demonstrations of preference and/or support for one belief system over others.
While you and some of your compatriots may find this kind of proselytizing perfectly acceptable, it is in direct contradiction to the fundamental understandings of our nation and should be moved to an appropriate Christian chapel, church or specifically Christian gathering place.
Props to your new superintendent, who clearly has a better understanding of the laws, history and traditions of our country than do you.
MRFF Advisory Board
Response from MRFF Board Member John Compere to original email
On Jan 19, 2023, at 3:40 PM, John Compere wrote:
Thank you for your prior service as a Merchant Marine.
The sworn oath you and all Merchant Marines, including the Merchant Marine Academy Superintendent, take requires you to perform all duties required by the laws of the United States.
For your information, US laws, beginning with the US Constitution 1st Amendment (effective December 15, 1791) prohibit the US Government, of which the Merchant Marines and Merchant Marine Academy are a part, from establishing, enforcing or endorsing a religion and require government neutrality regarding religion (neither pro-religion nor anti-religion but religion-neutral). It is a shield of protection for the right of every American, including Merchant Marines, to determine, enjoy and practice his or her own beliefs free from government favor or disfavor. It is never a sword of privilege to harm, discriminate against or impose religion on fellow Americans.
The very definition of a republic is “…a nation of laws and not of man.” – American Founder & President John Adams (“Thoughts on Government”, 1776)
Brigadier General, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, US Army (Retired)
Former Chief Judge, US Army Court of Military Review & US Army Legal Services Agency
Disabled American Veteran (Vietnam Era)
Board Member, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (composed of 85% Christians)
Response from MRFF Advisory Board Member James Currie to original email
Dear (name withheld):
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has asked me to respond to the two emails you sent to Mikey Weinstein about MRFF’s asking that the Merchant Marine Academy remove or cover up the image of Jesus saving the individuals in the lifeboat. First of all, you should understand that MRFF takes the position that members of all of the services have the right to be free from any U.S. Government violations of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Second, it seems clear that you have never been taught the meaning of the First Amendment’s prohibition of the government’s “respecting an establishment of religion.” I confess to not knowing as much about the Merchant Marine Academy and its curriculum as I do about the other service academies, but its website says that those who graduate from it are commissioned as officers in our armed forces. As such, I assume that you and other Kings Point graduates take the same oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” as did those of us who went into the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard.
Our Founding Fathers were quite aware of the bloody religious conflicts that had plagued Europe for so many years, and they were determined to prevent such in the new republic they were establishing. It was the same men who drafted the Constitution in 1787 who saw to it in 1791 that the Constitution was amended with what we call today the Bill of Rights. That First Amendment to the Constitution is the one that establishes, as President Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802 to a group of Baptists in Danbury, Conn., that there is a “wall of separation between church and state” established by the First Amendment. It is that “wall of separation” that requires that neither the Merchant Marine Academy nor any other government entity in our country single out any one religion or religious figure and elevate them above all others, as is so clearly the case with the painting hanging on the wall at Kings Point.
I ask you to stop for a moment and consider just how you would have reacted if, instead of Jesus guarding and protecting the lifeboat, the figure had been the Buddha or perhaps Muhammed or maybe even Moses. Would you have been so sanguine about this violation of the First Amendment? Indeed, you might well have become an MRFF client instead of a critic, and you would have been perfectly within your rights to object to such a religious characterization at Kings Point. That’s the beauty of the First Amendment. It does not discriminate, and it doesn’t matter whether your religious beliefs are in the majority or constitute those of only a small fraction of the American populace: they are equally protected by our Constitution.
If you are open-minded and willing to learn about the Constitution, there are any number of books you can read that will let you learn about the First Amendment. I highly recommend this course of action for you, unless you wish to remain ignorant of the Constitution you swore to defend.
Col. James T. Currie, USA (Ret.), Ph.D.
Board of Advisors, Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Response from MRFF Supporter Steve Dundas to original email
Subject: Your Email to Mr. Weinstein and reply to BG Compere
Date: January 20, 2023 at 12:02:55 AM MST
Cc: Michael L Weinstein
Dear Mr. (name withheld),
Robert Henlein wrote:
“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”
I read your E-Mails to Mr. Weinstein with interest because I am a retired Navy Chaplain whose military service in the Navy (including several Marine Corps tours) and 17 1/2 years in the Army. I also read your reply to General Compere, an actual Constitutional scholar and expert in military law. All told that’s about 39 plus years of service, in peace, in war, and in combat. I also happen to be a pretty good Christian theologian and pastoral care giver, an expert in religious liberty and religious rights, and a damned good published historian. I also taught ethics to senior officers at the Joint Forces Staff College, as well as teaching military history and leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride.
I really don’t know much about you. I only know of your exceptionally ignorant knowledge of American History, the Constitutional aspects of the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment. Likewise, you demonstrate an ignorance of military law and regulations concerning the Free Exercise of Religion and the the Establishment of Religion, and the seeming contempt you display to the sacred Oath of Office that you swore as a Midshipman, Merchant Marine and Naval Reserve Officer. But I have a hunch that Will Rogers never met you.
Since it is late and I have to be up early to teach History and Rhetoric in the Christian school that employs me, I will be more succinct than usual, but since I write history books my definition of succinct is a matter of interpretation.
First. As General Compere and Mike Ferrell noted, you do not understand that the First Amendment and the military regulations dealing with Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses. Those are there to protect the religious rights of all personnel, especially those of minority faiths. Since General Compare and Dr. Hunnicutt have already schooled you on those I will skip them for now.
Back when Madison penned the First Amendment there were Christian people who wanted their denominations to be the State Religion, and who had no tolerance for what then were small denominations, like the Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, and dare I say, Roman Catholics, not to mention the even smaller number of Jews and Muslims. These people wanted to have established churches in every state, except Rhode Island. Of precedence Madison had the Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty. That was written because Virginia Anglicans were pushing to establish their faith as the state religion of Virginia.
To help their cause they went around breaking up meetings of other groups, and in the case of Baptists, broke of their meetings, broke their noses, and took them to the nearest body of water to water board or “re-baptize” them. The leader of Virginia Baptists was a man named John Leland. Back in those days the Baptists believed in the absolute separation of Church and State because of how they were treated in England, by the Church of England, which in addition to being a Church worked with the government to persecute religious minorities. Separation of church and state was one of the five basic beliefs of Baptists, until the 1970s. If you want I can tell you of the other four, but won’t bore you.
Now, let us clear up one thing about the United States being a “Christian nation,” a myth that you have obviously swelled hook line and sinker. There is only one thing I true despise is myth masquerading as history being shoved down the throats of others by pseudo-historians masquerading as Christian leaders and politicians. But I can’t forget Christians that suffer from the Christian persecutors suffering from false persecution syndrome, sometimes called being upset at other people having the same rights as them. The fact that you don’t get the idea that this painting was in a room where meetings of people who are not Christians have to meet, as opposed to a strictly denominational Chapel facility, where if it were a Christian facility it would be fine, shows that you don’t care about anyone’s rights but your brand of Christians.
But, I will mention a few words from Madison, Leland, and a few others which you can Google to check the veracity. I don’t expect you to believe me so look them up yourself, if you dare.
Leland, a Christian, noted:
“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”
“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”
Thomas Paine, the author of that little book Common Sense which was such a favorite of the founders wrote:
“Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.”
“Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”
Robert Ingersoll, a prominent skeptic who served as a Union Army officer in the Civil War noted:
“They knew that to put God in the constitution was to put man out. They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping or in the keeping of her God the sacred rights of man. They intended that all should have the right to worship or not to worship that our laws should make no distinction on account of creed. They intended to found and frame a government for man and for man alone. They wished to preserve the individuality of all to prevent the few from governing the many and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.”
Samuel Huntington wrote in The Clash of Civilizations:
“Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”
The great Southern Baptist pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, and President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, George Truett, noted:
“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”
Finally, because I actually do need to get to bed I will close with the words of the great American philosopher Eric Hofer, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan:
“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”
And this by the late Gary North who schooled Ron and Rand Paul in the ways of Christian Nationalism and persecution of non-Christians of any kind or Christians of the wrong kind:
“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”
But, based on your prior emails you probably agree with him. However, this is the mentality that Mr. Weinstein, General Compere, Dr. Hunnicutt (aka Mike Ferrell) and we at MRFF fight against every day. It is not American, despite the fact that Christians were in the majority when the Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty and the Bill of Rights were crafted.
The founders understood this and insisted that the government was not Christian, as John Adams wrote in the Treaty of Algiers, the first treaty ever negotiated by the United States with a foreign power:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, — as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, — and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
Sadly, you don’t seem to get that, or the negative effects that having blatant symbols of any religion in public spaces on military installations and other non-sectarian government facilities has on others. I will end there, because I must get to bed. I wish you well.
Fr. Steve Dundas
CDR, CHC, USN (Retired)
Response from MRFF Advisory Board Member Lawrence Wilkerson
On Jan 21, 2023, at 10:19 AM, wrote:
Each of the responses you’ve received from MRFF leaders, staff, colleagues, and friends, including advisory board members, have put forward legitimate reasons for the Admiral’s action to cover the painting in question. The better solution, of course, is removal of the painting altogether and placing it in its proper place — a chapel, church, or other strictly religious setting. Even its apparent affiliation with a U.S. government military institution — or strictly speaking, any USG facility — is a violation of regulation, policy, and good order and discipline, as well as the explicit words of our Constitution. Moreover, the points you have advanced to the contrary are heavy evidence why such restrictions exist.
There were several profound motivations for those men who crafted our Constitution. One extremely important one was to escape the concept of state-sponsored religion or state religious preference. It matters not one wit that the crafters might have been Christians (all of them were not), or that they had read a version of the Old or New Testaments, both, or added the Torah, the Koran, or other religious text to their study (several had). Thomas Jefferson had even composed a version of the Christian Bible (New Testament, KJV) without the miracles and without the resurrection of Jesus, in an effort to make what was a highly ethical treatise more believable and thus more applicable to human morality by removing what to him were parts that were highly and physically improbable if not impossible. In sum, our Founders decided to design a government that stayed away from religion, one of the most divisive forces in human existence and easily deployed by a state to control its populace.
Your several arguments demonstrate why our Founders were so concerned. The most dangerous argument you deployed concerns your quite clear rationale — clear in your mind and I daresay many Christian minds like yours — that no harm is done displaying a painting (one in Jefferson’s eyes that would be judged clearly mythical) obviously endorsing the concept that mariners are best protected by a faith in the mythical figure hovering over the waters. Not only is that illogical — better to trust in and help inculcate the spirit and discipline of professionalism among your shipmates — it is offensive to those who do not practice the Christian faith or who practice no faith at all. Worse, it indicates endorsement by the owners of the facility in which it is displayed, in this case the USG, a clear violation of the Constitution. That 95% or greater endorse the display is no defense either because it is the 5% who do not that the USG must be most concerned about protecting. Majorities can be mobs; in fact, often are. Moreover, nowhere close to 95% endorse Christianity in America.
When the greatest of all the Founders — in my view — George Washington, heard of the concerns of a Jewish congregation in Newport, RI, he took pen in hand in 1790 and wrote that congregation a personal letter — as President of the United States — explaining to them why they need not be concerned about religious freedom in the new country called “these United States of America”. I recommend that letter to you. In fact, I recommend a visit, if you’re able, to Newport and to Touro Synagogue. You will encounter no difficulty in locating it as thousands of Americans visit it every year — if for no other reason than to read that letter hanging on the wall of the Synagogue — because that letter says it all. One thing it says to Touro’s Jewish congregation and to every Jewish-American is this: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.” Imagine, if you will, how a Jewish merchant mariner or a Jewish individual training to be such a person, feels when he sits in that official government building and stares at a monstrously large depiction of Jesus Christ — a depiction that all but says to that Jewish man or woman, “Your salvation is in Christ.” Were I a Jewish-American, seeing that image in a government building would contravene Washington’s words. It would indeed make me afraid.
I readily admit this can seem an esoteric argument to those totally captured by their faith, or simply unschooled in the law and military regulations. That, though, is also part of our Founders’ genius. They were very comfortable with such esoteric matters and not unschooled. We are all fortunate for it — whether we realize it or not.
Colonel, USA (Ret)
MRFF Advisory Board
MRFF Advisory Board