As I begin the process of reviewing the historical foundations of our extremely important religious freedom rights in the United States of America, I can't help but note the general lack of awareness of the history and foundations of these rights that are so vital to our overall wellbeing and freedom as a nation. I cannot recall even one instances in all my years of schooling when the topic of religious freedom and the historical basis for these important rights was taught or even discussed. This included my Constitutional Law classes in law school.
One important reason why religious freedom is presently so precariously situated in our society is due to this lack of knowledge and the resultant lack of perspective. There is a need to educate our citizens about the deep, historical roots of this right. Religious freedom was not a novel idea that sprang completely formulated from those who drafted the United States Constitution, it was an important factor in our overall history for hundreds of years before the Revolutionary War and the establishment of the United States of America as an entity.
More than 120 years before the Declaration of Independence, Quaker settlers in Vlissengen (now Flushing, Queens, New York) who had left England because of religious persecution, were threatened by the imposition of rules promulgated by Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Netherland, forbidding the Quakers from holding meetings in any home.
In response the English colonists wrote a demand for religious freedom that is known as the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657. Here is a transcription of that document:
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, for out of Christ God is a consuming fire, and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
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. Wee are bounde by the law to do good unto all men, especially to those of the household of faith. And though for the present we seem to be unsensible for the law and the Law giver, yet when death and the Law assault us, if wee have our advocate to seeke, who shall plead for us in this case of conscience betwixt God and our own souls; the powers of this world can neither attach us, neither excuse us, for if God justifye who can condemn and if God condemn there is none can justifye.
And for those jealousies and suspicions which some have of them, that they are destructive unto Magistracy and Ministerye, that cannot bee, for the Magistrate hath his sword in his hand and the Minister hath the sword in his hand, as witnesse those two great examples, which all Magistrates and Ministers are to follow, Moses and Christ, whom God raised up maintained and defended against all enemies both of flesh and spirit; and therefore that of God will stand, and that which is of man will come to nothing. And as the Lord hath taught Moses or the civil power to give an outward liberty in the state, by the law written in his heart designed for the good of all, and can truly judge who is good, who is evil, who is true and who is false, and can pass definitive sentence of life or death against that man which arises up against the fundamental law of the States General; soe he hath made his ministers a savor of life unto life and a savor of death unto death.
The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage. And because our Saviour sayeth it is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as we desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Saviour sayeth this is the law and the prophets.
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. And this is according to the patent and charter of our Towne, given unto us in the name of the States General, which we are not willing to infringe, and violate, but shall houlde to our patent and shall remaine, your humble subjects, the inhabitants of Vlishing.
Written this 27th of December in the year 1657, by mee.In response to the petition, the Governor arrested some of the signers and replaced the government of the town with his own supporters. See "The Birth of Freedom of Religion - Flushing Remonstrance, December 27, 1657. "
Edward Hart, Clericus
|Vintage Ad #1,237: The Flushing Remonstrance. Another of the long series of PSAs presented by DC Comics and the National Social Welfare Assembly. Originally published circa 1958, the ad was written by Jack Schiff and drawn by Bob Brown. Source: World's Finest Comics #196, September 1970|
A deeper understanding of the historical context is needed to begin an understanding the meaning and significance of the First Amendment references to religion adopted by the states in 1789. In these introductory posts, I am briefly reviewing some of the precedent documents.
This is an ongoing series. I suggest you may wish to read previous posts.