Freedom of Religion and the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance

A U.S. Postage Stamp commemorating religious freedom and the Flushing Remonstrance.

The place: Flushings, New York (now New York City, Queens)

The time: 1657

Flushings had just been around for only 12 years and most of the people there belong to the Dutch Reformed Church. The governor of New York, being a good Christian Puritan thought that the Quakers represented some kind of danger and made their meetings illegal.  The ordinary English farmers of Flushings (a town only 12 years old) who had fled religious persecution and had been granted generous religious freedom by the 1645 charter noted the contradiction in treatment, and they got together in a town meeting to write a document called the Flushings Remonstrance to protest the intolerance to their Quaker friends.

The document says in part:

 The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage. And because our Saviour sayeth it is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as we desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Saviour sayeth this is the law and the prophets.

What these farmers did not know is that they had penned a great American document and that this right to free practice of religion would end up 125 years or so later to be enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights!

The immediate outcome of their actions was not positive. The governor was furious when he found out what the township of Flushing’s had done. The ring leaders were arrested, fined, jailed and/or deported. The author, Edward Hart, the town clerk, was jailed for three weeks until he apologized and recanted in writing. None of these people were Quakers – they were just friends of the Quakers who wanted to help them out.

The good news was that the Quakers continued to meet in Flushings.

Here is a good website about it:

The document still exists – although it is a little bit burned. Flanders is now a most diverse place. According to the New York Times article on the 350th anniversary of the document

And so the centuries-old message of tolerance in the Remonstrance is hardly an abstraction in this neighborhood of 60,000 residents and more than a hundred ethnic groups. Within a block of the library are the China Modern Bookshop, Woo Chon Korean Bar-B-Que, Barone Pizza, Cohen’s Fashion Optical and Pho Hoang Vietnamese Cuisine.

“There are so many religions here — and languages,” said Mohd Siraj, pointing to newspapers in more than 20 languages at the 24-Hour Newsstand where he works at 40-29 Main Street.

America is not a Christian Theocracy. It is not the manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth. America is, or should be,  a place where “the law of love, peace, and liberty” is “extended to Jews, Turks and Egyptians”.

(this may be the first of a new series I am thinking of writing on the Bill of Rights)


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Filed under America, Christianity, mission, Religion

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