Arts and Culture

Religious Freedom

Author Melinda Penner Published on 03/22/2006

We got a little history lesson at the STR office yesterday thanks to a stamp.  As Wendy opened the mail, she noticed a envelope covered with a half dozen stamps to make $.37.  All but one of the stamps were obviously old, and quite beautiful.  One printed in 1957 had a banner with the words “Freedom of Religion,” which celebrated the tri-centennial of the “Flushing Remonstrance.”  We’d never heard of it so we looked it up. 

It turns out that the Flushing Remonstrance was a declaration of religious freedom made by the Quakers in Flushing, New York, in response to government interference with their religious meetings.  It turns out to be a precursor to the First Amendment that predates the Virginia state bill of rights that the Founders drew from heavily to formulate the Bill of Rights.  The “Flushing Remonstrance”  demonstrates that the value of religious freedom was part of the fabric of our country at the beginning, little more than a generation after the Pilgrims and the Jamestown Colony.  It also demonstrates that the practice of religious tolerance took some time to perfect even though each religious group came to the U.S. looking for freedom.

A respected Flushing colonist, Henry Townsend, held a Quaker meeting in his home and was fined and banished. This prompted a protest from Flushing citizens, which is perhaps the earliest demand for freedom of religion made by American colonists to their political superiors. It is dated December 27, 1657, and is drawn up and signed by Edward Hart, the Town Clerk, Tobias Feake, the Schout (sheriff) and twenty-eight other citizens. This document, known as the Flushing Remonstrance, respectfully but firmly argues the cause of religious freedom.