The Flushing Remonstrance, a little-known but important early document arguing for religions liberty, went on display at a public library in New York City last month.
Drafted in 1657 by 30 citizens who lived in the Flushing area, the document is a heart-felt plea for religious liberty from residents who were alarmed by persecution of their Quaker neighbors. At the time, New York was under the control of the Dutch. The Quakers, who were English, sought the right to dissent from the state-established Dutch Reformed Church.
Some of the signers of the document had allowed Quakers to hold unauthorized religious meetings in their homes. They boldly admitted this to Dutch officials, writing to Gay. Peter Stuyvesant, "Therefore, if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses, as God shall persuade our consciences. And in this we are true subjects hath of Church and State, for we are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe man."
The missive, dated Dec. 27, 1657, did not have the effect the senders had hoped. In fact, some of its signers were arrested and jailed. They were released a short time later, and most vowed to continue to support the Quakers.
One signer, a farmer named John Bowne, was subsequently banished from the colony for his support of the Quakers. Bowne traveled to the Netherlands and argued that he should be allowed to return. He was, and his homestead is now a museum.
The New York Times reported that the Flushing Remonstrance...