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The Origins of America's Religious Liberty...Birthed in Queens, NYC?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 30, 2023 3:02 am

The Origins of America's Religious Liberty...Birthed in Queens, NYC?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 30, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Larry Reed tells the story of the Flushing Remonstrance, an all-important document that helped inform the 1st Amendment.

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Listen to Health Discovered on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. And we return to our American stories and up next, a story from our friend Larry Reed, President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education or FEE, on a document and event that helped establish a very, very important and important and important and important Take it away, Larry. To the Right Honorable Governor of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, you have been pleased to send unto us a certain prohibition or command that we should not receive or entertain any of those people called Quakers because they are supposed to be, by some, seducers of the people. For our part, we cannot condemn them in this case, neither can we stretch out our hands against them. We desire, therefore, in this case, not to judge, lest we be judged, neither to condemn, lest we be condemned, but rather let every man stand or fall to his own master.

We are bound by the law to do good unto all men, especially to those of the household of faith. With those words, Edward Hart, the town clerk of what is now the Queens neighborhood of Flushing, New York, began a powerful 650-word document known as the Flushing Remonstrance. It was December 27, 1657.

Hart wrote on behalf of the 30 inhabitants of the village who also boldly signed their names below his. This was a defiant shot across the bow of the state personified by Governor Stuyvesant. It was an act of resistance and an early declaration in favor of the freedom of peaceful worship. Moreover, it was not a self-serving stand for the freedom simply of those who signed it. None of them were Quakers, but rather a defense of the freedom of others.

Think of it in these terms. In contravention of the practice of tolerance back in the mother country of the Netherlands, Governor Stuyvesant promulgated a policy of intolerance in the Dutch settlements of New York. He aimed to persecute those who did not adhere to the Dutch Reformed Church, and the nonconformist Quakers were his prime target. In this response, the citizens of Flushing essentially stated, you are commanding us to persecute Quakers.

We will not. So take your intolerance and stick it where the sun doesn't shine. If you're inclined to stop listening because freedom of religion is not important to you, perhaps you're not of any faith or you believe your faith is not threatened, think again. Freedom in one sense is indivisible. A successful attack on one of its elements invites assaults on the others. Allow the state to breach one wall of freedom's fortress and you have invited it inside, whereas agents and sycophants will work to bring down the remaining walls. A government that can tell you what to think and say and punish you for thinking and saying what it disapproves will not self-limit its despotism there. This is likely what Voltaire had in mind when he reputedly asserted, I disagree with what you say, but will contend to the death for your right to say it. The timid multitudes stand idly by as freedom is crushed, doing nothing unless the danger appears on their own doorstep.

The uncommonly courageous few will rise far sooner and it is to them that all of us who love freedom owe special gratitude. Governor Stuyvesant's policy of persecution had begun in 1656 with an ordinance banning unauthorized religious meetings. Quaker preachers were harassed, arrested, jailed, and fined.

In flushing itself, a Baptist pastor was imprisoned and then exiled for the crime of baptizing without a license from the Dutch Reformed officialdom. The flushing remonstrance stirs my blood with an abiding appreciation for principled courage. How fitting for such an enlightened document to appear two days after Christmas.

Inspired by Jesus' teachings, the brave souls of flushing were likely full of hope for the good that peace and tolerance could bring in the New Year. They concluded their statement as follows. Governor Stuyvesant reacted in anger. Determined to quash the spirit of the remonstrance, he dissolved Flushing's town government and put his own cronies in charge. He arrested four of the signers of the remonstrance, including Edward Hart.

To his credit, the elderly Hart went to jail but never recanted. Relief from Stuyvesant's harsh rule finally arrived in 1663, but not by the hand of any government. The Dutch West India Company, sponsor and investor in the Dutch colonies of North America, dispatched a letter to Stuyvesant ordering him to stop religious persecution. So much did Thomas Jefferson later revel in the spirit of the Flushing-inspired motto, rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God, he inserted it on his personal seal. Religious freedom in a world run by political and religious tyrants, even in America, had to be fought for tooth and nail. A century before the Flushing remonstrance, Protestant Huguenots from France tried to settle near what is now Jacksonville, Florida.

The Catholic Spanish slaughtered them by the hundreds and destroyed their settlement at Fort Caroline in 1565. In the 1630s, religious dissidents Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were famously expelled from the intolerant Puritan colony of Massachusetts Bay. William Penn founded Pennsylvania as a refuge from religious persecution. He himself had been imprisoned in the Tower of London for his defiance of the Anglican church.

From his cold, dank cell he had declared, my prison shall be my grave before I will budge a jot, for I owe my conscience to no mortal man. Later in Philadelphia, the capital of the colony he founded, Penn wrote, I do hereby grant and declare that no person or persons inhabiting this province or territories shall be in any case molested or prejudiced in his or their person or persons because of his or their consciences, persuasion or practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious worship, place or ministry contrary to their religious persuasion. The 16th and 17th century heroes for religious freedom in America would have been thrilled on December 15, 1791. That's when the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took effect. It formalized the separation of church and state and forbade the government from passing any law that would disfavor or favor any faith or interfere with any person's peaceful exercise of it.

Adopted in 1868, the 14th Amendment went further by preventing the states from enacting laws that would promote or stifle religion. Today, the Flushing Remonstrance is known as the religious Magna Carta of the New World. It proved to be a major influence on America's founders to enshrine freedom of worship in the Bill of Rights more than a century after the citizens of Flushing defied a governor.

God bless America. A great job to Monty for producing that piece and a special thanks to Larry Reed for writing and performing the piece, The Flushing Remonstrance. Imagine a city council or state passing a rule prohibiting unauthorized religious meetings.

What else would they pass? Which is the point of Larry Reed's brilliant piece. A great story about religious freedom and religious persecution, religious bigotry. The story of the Flushing Remonstrance here on Our American Stories. Be proud.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-30 04:19:58 / 2023-11-30 04:25:04 / 5

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