Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, May 02, 2008

Religious pluralism and the American ideal

When I get irritated (as I very often do) at the headscarves on the street, or the Hindu temple going up next to a church, or the minaret dominating a skyline instead of a steeple, I try to remember the Flushing Remonstrance.

What was the Flushing Remonstrance?

In 1657, when Manhattan Island was still New Netherland, when Flushing (Queens) was a tiny settlement of English-style farmhouses, members of the Society of Friends, known (derisively) as Quakers, began to arrive, fleeing persecution in England. The famous Peter Stuyvesant, director general of New Netherland, sought to ostracize them, forbidding his colonists to associate with them.

But on December 27, 1657, 30 non-Quaker citizens of Flushing signed an extraordinary letter to Stuyvesant. We know it today as "the Flushing Remonstrance." In this letter, the signatories asserted that they would not "stretch out our hands against" the Quakers "to punish, banish, or persecute them." They reminded Stuyvesant that colonial law mandated freedom of religion. This freedom, they asserted, included "Jews, Turks, and Egyptians," and "Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist, or Quaker."

Stuyvesant responded with fines and jail terms. John Bowne, whose farmhouse still stands in Flushing, was banished from the colony in 1662. (He was allowed to return from Holland in 1664 and returned to his home where, remarkably, his descendants lived until the mid-1940s. The house is now a museum.)

Here's the clincher:
100 years after the signing of the Flushing Remonstrance, Richard Stockton of New Jersey, a direct descendant of one of the Remonstrators, signed the Declaration of Independence.

Doesn't that give you goose bumps? This is what makes America, America. We must not lose this.

Inspired by an article in the May 2, 2008 New York Times, "The Melting Pot on a High Boil in Flushing."