Today is the anniversary of the signing of the Flushing Remonstrance, one of the earliest appeals for religious tolerance in American history. In the 1600's in New Netherlands (now New York), the practice of any faith other than the Christianity of the Dutch Reformed Church was forbidden. Adherents to other religions ("Jews, Turks...Egyptians") or denominations ("Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker") were persecuted, imprisoned and banished.
In response, a group of citizens in the town of Vlishing (now known as Flushing) signed a petition of remonstrance (protest), written by town clerk Edward Hart, and submitted it to the governor. Some of the signees of the petition were arrested, but citizens of conscience continued to oppose the government's stance against religious freedom. Some citizens engaged in acts of civil disobedience (for example, by welcoming people of banned faiths into their homes). Gradually, religious persecution in the colony came to an end.
The Flushing Remonstrance is considered a precursor to the Freedom of Religion clause (the First Amendment) in the U.S. Constitution.
According to the Bowne House Historical Society:
"Their letter not only defied the laws of one of the most powerful, religious governors of the colonial age, it challenged the very idea of state-enforced religion. The belief that religion was an affair of state lay at the core of the bloody religious persecutions that had plagued Europe throughout the Reformation age. Even in the more lenient American colonies, the words of the Remonstrance expressed a concept of religious freedom that extended beyond the principles of any other contemporary document. The Remonstrance presented a raw version of the radical ideals later solidified in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."
The Flushing Remonstrance reads, in part: "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."