On this very date in 1657, in the Dutch colony of New Netherland, 30 residents of Flushing (in what is today New York City) signed a petition, the Flushing Remonstrance, requesting an exemption to the ban on Quaker worship imposed by Peter Stuyvesant, the colony’s director-general.
None of the signers were themselves Quakers; they were English citizens opposed to the prohibition of religions other than the Dutch Reformed Church.
The Remonstrance stated:
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. . . .
Wee desire therefore in this case not to judge least we be judged, neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand or fall to his own Master. . . .
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, for we are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe man.
Four of the signers were arrested; two, who refused to recant, imprisoned. Years later, signer John Bowne was arrested for allowing Quakers to meet in his house. He petitioned the directors of the Dutch West India Company, which ultimately “advised” Stuyvesant to end his religious persecution in the colony.
The Flushing petition served as an important precedent to the First Amendment’s provision guaranteeing freedom of worship. Americans of all religions (or none) owe those brave petitioners a debt — a debt best repaid by taking good care of our current freedoms.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.