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The Birth of Freedom of Religion - Flushing Remonstrance, December 27, 1657
350 years ago, 30 Quaker farmers from the Flushing, Queens area signed an appeal to the governor of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, to allow them to freely practice their religion. Stuyvesant had banned all religions outside of the Dutch Reformed Church from being practiced in the colony, which led to the persecution of Quakers, among others. In response to this petition the government of New Netherland threw some of the signers in jail and replaced the government of the town of Flushing with more reasonable substitutes.
A few years later, John Bowne of Flushing (then known as Vlissingen) started to allow the Quakers to hold meetings in his house. For this he was punished by being jailed and then by banishment to Holland, though he was himself of English ancestry and spoke no Dutch. After appealing to the Dutch West India Company, Bowne was able to convince the authorities of the benefits of religious tolerance, and in 1663 Stuyvesant was notified to end religious persecution.
The Remonstrance is considered by historians to be a forerunner of the first amendment of the Constitution and is sometimes referred to as the Magna Carta of the New World. To read the text of this truly remarkable document, click here.
To celebrate this anniversary the Flushing Remonstrance is currently being displayed at the Flushing Branch of the Queens Public Library. Incidentally, the Magna Carta is also being shown in New York, at Sotheby’s.