Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Flushing Remonstrance

A Colony With a Conscience

Remarkable opinion piece on the history of religious tolerance in the USA by Kenneth T. Jackson:

...Religious tolerance did not begin with the Bill of Rights...this republic really owes its enduring strength to a fragile, scorched and little-known document that was signed by some 30 ordinary citizens on Dec. 27, 1657...

Even thought the Dutch were remarkably tolerant, the provincial director general of New Amsterdam was fed-up with with the Quakers, who were quickly getting a reputation as troublemakers. He signed a harsh ordinance against the religious group and bared anyone from harboring them. A man named Edward Hart, along with other like-minded individuals, quickly signed a petition protesting the general's act:

“...We desire therefore in this case not to judge least we be judged, neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand and fall to his own master...the power of this world can neither attack us, neither excuse us, for if God justify, who can condemn, and if God condemn, there is none can justify..If any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free egress and regress unto our town...For we are bound by the law of God and man to do good unto all men and evil to no man...”

Adding more import to this historic document is the fact none of the signers were Quakers. Predictably, the general had Hart and others arrested or jailed. Some were made to recant. One farmer, John Browne, was banished but eventually made it back to Amsterdam to plead his case. He won! The harsh ordinance was overruled.

Jackson ends the piece poignantly:

...The Bowne house is still standing. And within a few blocks of it a modern visitor to Flushing will encounter a Quaker meeting house, a Dutch Reformed church, an Episcopal church, a Catholic church, a synagogue, a Hindu temple and a mosque. All coexist in peace, appropriately in the most diverse neighborhood in the most diverse borough in the most diverse city on the planet.

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