By Dan Shine
The Flushing Remonstrance
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
We all recognize these words from the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights—but where did this precious freedom come from originally? And just how did it come about? Well it’s like this…
Just slightly to the east of present-day Laguardia Airport and Citi Field is the community of Flushing, which is part of Queens, New York.
In 1645, Flushing, then called Vlissengen, was granted a charter and became a part of New Netherland. Oddly enough, it was mostly settled by English families. Many Quakers came to this area, and their religious teaching found wide acceptance despite continued opposition on the part of the government and heads of the Reformed Dutch Church.
At that time, Peter Stuyvesant was the governor of New Netherlands. He issued an edict forbidding anyone in the colony to entertain a Quaker or to allow a Quaker meeting to be held in his or her house under penalty of a fine of fifty pounds.
And, so it was that in 1657, a written remonstrance, or protest, was prepared and signed by 30 of the English residents of Flushing. It demanded an end to religious persecution in New Netherland, no matter what the religion, saying, “Therefore, if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but must give them free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses, as God shall persuade our consciences…” Four of those who signed the document were thrown in jail for a month and kept on rations of bread and water.
Sometime later, John Bowne of the colony allowed Quakers to meet in his house. He was arrested in 1662, and taken before Stuyvesant. Unrepentant, he was banished to Holland, even though he was in fact an Englishman.
After several months of banishment, Bowne petitioned the Dutch authorities in Holland. After one month of deliberation, they agreed to support Bowne, and advised Stuyvesant in 1663 to cease all religious persecution in the colony.
One year later, in 1664, the colony fell to British control.
All Americans are truly indebted to those few brave souls, whose actions in 1657 dared to challenge their government on behalf of all religions. It is by their efforts, and by their sacrifices, so long ago, that we today enjoy the precious religious freedom that we hold so dear.