en-fr  New Amsterdam Figured Out Religious Tolerance 361 Years Ago
New Amsterdam Figured Out Religious Tolerance 361 Years Ago.

By Russell Shorto, The New York Times, Opinion, June 27, 2018.

Mr. Shorto has written extensively about the Dutch Republic‘s influence on the United States.

We’ve been here before: America had a “travel ban” crisis more than three and a half centuries ago, and it was resolved, pragmatically, with an appeal to the universal principle of religious freedom. That case should serve as a touchstone for those who are saddened and outraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Trump’s ban on admitting people from selected mostly Muslim countries.

As a candidate, Donald Trump vowed to enact a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration to the United States, and his administration has worked diligently to make good on that promise. Civil rights organizations report that religion-based hate crimes and religious discrimination have been on the rise, with hate groups seemingly taking their lead from the president’s tweets.

Those who consider all of this to be antithetical to America’s founding principle of religious liberty have looked to the First Amendment to the Constitution as their salvation. Unfortunately, the First Amendment is vague in its language, which gives wide latitude for interpretation.

But an earlier assertion of this fundamental principle is quite clear. Kenneth Jackson, the great historian of New York City, has called the Flushing Remonstrance — an appeal to religious liberty in the Dutch colony of New Netherland, precursor to New York — “a forerunner of the First Amendment” and “a major statement” of “the right to practice the religion of your choice.” This document should serve as a guide in the fight over religious liberty.

And now we have fresh perspective on the Flushing Remonstrance itself. Last month, the New Netherland Research Center, the nexus of scholarship on the Dutch colony that gave rise to New York, published a volume of translations of the colony’s records that covers the years 1656 to 1658, the period of the Flushing Remonstrance, giving us context on the document. The story that emerges from this long-ago era turns out to be surprisingly similar to the one we find ourselves in today. It shows both religious intolerance borne of fear of the other and a steadfast determination to conquer it.

New Netherland — with its capital of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island — was a Dutch settlement, but it was a mix of peoples, thanks to the diversity in the Dutch Republic itself. In the 16th and 17th centuries, that tiny country rose to become the greatest trading nation on earth, and the enormous influx of wealth helped spawn the famed Dutch Golden Age.

A hallmark of the Dutch success was the statement of religious freedom — or, to be more precise, of freedom of conscience — that was enshrined in the de facto Constitution of 1579, which asserted that “no one shall be persecuted or investigated because of his religion.” That declaration was a watershed in human history. It was issued at a time of religious strife in Europe, when intolerance was official policy in England, Spain and elsewhere, when maintaining a state religion was considered a matter of stability and common sense. The Dutch went in precisely the opposite direction, and proved that tolerance could actually strengthen a society.

New York became the epicenter of American diversity and trade thanks in part to features it inherited from its Dutch forebears, including the principle of religious toleration. But Peter Stuyvesant, the director-general of the colony of New Netherland, put that toleration to the test when a group of Quakers arrived in Manhattan in 1657.

Quakers were generally reviled at the time for their strange, spiritually induced behavior — “quaking” and the like. The rulers of the New England colonies occasionally went so far as to hang Quakers who showed up there. The Dutch were more broad-minded, but the restrictive nature of Dutch tolerance required those with alternative practices not to make a show of themselves. The Quakers, though, were downright flamboyant in their displays.

“The religious leaders in the community were up in arms about the Quakers,” Charles Gehring, translator of the documents, told me. “People believed they were outside the norms of the faith — that if they didn’t punish them for their behavior it might bring down the wrath of God.” Whether out of his own bigotry or to appease his base, Stuyvesant wanted them out.

New Netherland’s diverse population included English inhabitants, who settled in several villages on Long Island. A small number of Quakers sought refuge in one of these towns: Vlissingen, later Flushing (which, it’s worth noting, is today one of the most ethnically and religiously mixed communities in America). After Stuyvesant sent word that no one in the town was to harbor the Quakers, 30 inhabitants, who were not themselves Quakers, put their signatures to a remarkable document.

“We are bound by the law to do good unto all men,” they declared. “The law of love, peace and liberty” in the Dutch Republic, they asserted, extended even to “Jews, Turks and Egyptians,” all of whom were considered “the sons of Adam.” They had no choice, they concluded, under Dutch law as well as their own consciences, but to accept the Quakers.

Stuyvesant reacted with an aggressive crackdown — not on the Quakers themselves, but on the leaders of Flushing, who he decided had defied a law against “illegal conventicles.” He ordered arrests, drew up lists of interrogatories, coerced apologies and confessions, issued fines and threw people in prison. He barred the residents of Flushing from holding town meetings, and decreed that their “heresy and unseemly lawlessness” would be rectified by the appointment of a “good, devout, God-fearing and orthodox minister,” whose salary would be paid for by the townspeople. While the Dutch Republic was far and away the most tolerant European nation, Stuyvesant himself frankly admired the relative purity of the New England colonies to the north and complained that his own comprised “the scrapings of all nations.” The series of actions Stuyvesant took to try to prevent the Quakers from settling is almost a template for what President Trump has done to restrict Muslim immigration.

When Stuyvesant’s frank bigotry (“an abominable sect,” he termed the Quakers) was countered by reference to the Dutch principle of religious toleration, he ruled that the need to uphold “pax et concordia,” peace and harmony, overrode the toleration principle. Mr. Trump likewise shifted from blunt animus (saying during the campaign that he would “strongly consider” closing mosques in the United States) to having his solicitor general argue before the Supreme Court that the travel ban is “not a so-called Muslim ban” but was imposed in the name of national security.

Religious bigotry in New Amsterdam was tied to a fear of the other. Mr. Trump appeases a segment of the population today that holds a similar fear. (“I think Islam hates us,” he said during the campaign, to the delight of his base.) And as with Stuyvesant, Mr. Trump’s actions have tended to favor a particular religious community.

One might give Peter Stuyvesant a break: His was a different time, after all. The current president of the United States, by contrast, seems determined to turn the clock back. It’s as though the last three and a half centuries — not to mention the Constitution and its Bill of Rights — never existed.

But the New Netherland story goes on — and offers some guidance for those who are anguished that our leaders are moving the country in the wrong direction. For the residents of Flushing had another card to play. Four years later, a Flushing Quaker named John Bowne traveled to Holland to appeal Stuyvesant’s decision to punish him for holding an illegal religious service in his home. Bowne won. Stuyvesant’s superiors forced him to permit Quakers to live and worship in the colony.

That decision was practical, and it too has echoes for our time. While some people today are motivated by fear, many others support basic freedoms not just out of airy principle but because they’re good for business. According to pollsters, millions of Americans believe that immigrants contribute to the nation’s economy.

The same was true in the 17th century. The directors of the West India Company, which oversaw New Netherland, were keen to attract settlers. Dutch diversity was a draw, both in the home country and in the North American colony. The colony’s directors feared that Stuyvesant’s bigotry would dissuade others from settling. And contrary to Stuyvesant’s fears that they were a danger, the Quakers went on to become some of the great pacifists of American history.

In her dissenting opinion in the travel ban case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor (who was born and raised in the Bronx) found that Mr. Trump’s ban “was motivated by hostility and animus toward the Muslim faith.” She summarized her opposition to the majority succinctly: “The United States of America is a nation built upon the promise of religious liberty. Our founders honored that core promise by embedding the principle of religious neutrality in the First Amendment. The court’s decision today fails to safeguard that fundamental principle.” The episode from America’s early colonial days offers both perspective on that failure and encouragement to push onward. It reminds us that freedom of religion is in a constant struggle with fear of the other, that basic rights are never secure, but are only upheld by constant vigilance. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, “the law of peace, love and liberty,” as the residents of Flushing put it, applies just as well in the 21st century as it did in the 17th.

Russell Shorto (@RussellShorto) is a senior scholar at the New Netherland Research Center and the author of “The Island at the Center of the World” and, most recently, “Revolution Song.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/opinion/travel-ban-supreme-court-new-amsterdam.html
unit 1
New Amsterdam Figured Out Religious Tolerance 361 Years Ago.
0 Translations, 0 Upvotes, Last Activity None
unit 2
By Russell Shorto, The New York Times, Opinion, June 27, 2018.
0 Translations, 0 Upvotes, Last Activity None
unit 10
But an earlier assertion of this fundamental principle is quite clear.
0 Translations, 0 Upvotes, Last Activity None
unit 12
And now we have fresh perspective on the Flushing Remonstrance itself.
0 Translations, 0 Upvotes, Last Activity None
unit 26
The Quakers, though, were downright flamboyant in their displays.
0 Translations, 0 Upvotes, Last Activity None
unit 32
“We are bound by the law to do good unto all men,” they declared.
0 Translations, 0 Upvotes, Last Activity None
unit 39
Religious bigotry in New Amsterdam was tied to a fear of the other.
0 Translations, 0 Upvotes, Last Activity None
unit 47
For the residents of Flushing had another card to play.
0 Translations, 0 Upvotes, Last Activity None
unit 49
Bowne won.
0 Translations, 0 Upvotes, Last Activity None
unit 51
That decision was practical, and it too has echoes for our time.
0 Translations, 0 Upvotes, Last Activity None
unit 54
The same was true in the 17th century.
0 Translations, 0 Upvotes, Last Activity None

New Amsterdam Figured Out Religious Tolerance 361 Years Ago.

By Russell Shorto, The New York Times, Opinion, June 27, 2018.

Mr. Shorto has written extensively about the Dutch Republic‘s influence on the United States.

We’ve been here before: America had a “travel ban” crisis more than three and a half centuries ago, and it was resolved, pragmatically, with an appeal to the universal principle of religious freedom. That case should serve as a touchstone for those who are saddened and outraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Trump’s ban on admitting people from selected mostly Muslim countries.

As a candidate, Donald Trump vowed to enact a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration to the United States, and his administration has worked diligently to make good on that promise. Civil rights organizations report that religion-based hate crimes and religious discrimination have been on the rise, with hate groups seemingly taking their lead from the president’s tweets.

Those who consider all of this to be antithetical to America’s founding principle of religious liberty have looked to the First Amendment to the Constitution as their salvation. Unfortunately, the First Amendment is vague in its language, which gives wide latitude for interpretation.

But an earlier assertion of this fundamental principle is quite clear. Kenneth Jackson, the great historian of New York City, has called the Flushing Remonstrance — an appeal to religious liberty in the Dutch colony of New Netherland, precursor to New York — “a forerunner of the First Amendment” and “a major statement” of “the right to practice the religion of your choice.” This document should serve as a guide in the fight over religious liberty.

And now we have fresh perspective on the Flushing Remonstrance itself. Last month, the New Netherland Research Center, the nexus of scholarship on the Dutch colony that gave rise to New York, published a volume of translations of the colony’s records that covers the years 1656 to 1658, the period of the Flushing Remonstrance, giving us context on the document. The story that emerges from this long-ago era turns out to be surprisingly similar to the one we find ourselves in today. It shows both religious intolerance borne of fear of the other and a steadfast determination to conquer it.

New Netherland — with its capital of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island — was a Dutch settlement, but it was a mix of peoples, thanks to the diversity in the Dutch Republic itself. In the 16th and 17th centuries, that tiny country rose to become the greatest trading nation on earth, and the enormous influx of wealth helped spawn the famed Dutch Golden Age.

A hallmark of the Dutch success was the statement of religious freedom — or, to be more precise, of freedom of conscience — that was enshrined in the de facto Constitution of 1579, which asserted that “no one shall be persecuted or investigated because of his religion.” That declaration was a watershed in human history. It was issued at a time of religious strife in Europe, when intolerance was official policy in England, Spain and elsewhere, when maintaining a state religion was considered a matter of stability and common sense. The Dutch went in precisely the opposite direction, and proved that tolerance could actually strengthen a society.

New York became the epicenter of American diversity and trade thanks in part to features it inherited from its Dutch forebears, including the principle of religious toleration. But Peter Stuyvesant, the director-general of the colony of New Netherland, put that toleration to the test when a group of Quakers arrived in Manhattan in 1657.

Quakers were generally reviled at the time for their strange, spiritually induced behavior — “quaking” and the like. The rulers of the New England colonies occasionally went so far as to hang Quakers who showed up there. The Dutch were more broad-minded, but the restrictive nature of Dutch tolerance required those with alternative practices not to make a show of themselves. The Quakers, though, were downright flamboyant in their displays.

“The religious leaders in the community were up in arms about the Quakers,” Charles Gehring, translator of the documents, told me. “People believed they were outside the norms of the faith — that if they didn’t punish them for their behavior it might bring down the wrath of God.” Whether out of his own bigotry or to appease his base, Stuyvesant wanted them out.

New Netherland’s diverse population included English inhabitants, who settled in several villages on Long Island. A small number of Quakers sought refuge in one of these towns: Vlissingen, later Flushing (which, it’s worth noting, is today one of the most ethnically and religiously mixed communities in America). After Stuyvesant sent word that no one in the town was to harbor the Quakers, 30 inhabitants, who were not themselves Quakers, put their signatures to a remarkable document.

“We are bound by the law to do good unto all men,” they declared. “The law of love, peace and liberty” in the Dutch Republic, they asserted, extended even to “Jews, Turks and Egyptians,” all of whom were considered “the sons of Adam.” They had no choice, they concluded, under Dutch law as well as their own consciences, but to accept the Quakers.

Stuyvesant reacted with an aggressive crackdown — not on the Quakers themselves, but on the leaders of Flushing, who he decided had defied a law against “illegal conventicles.” He ordered arrests, drew up lists of interrogatories, coerced apologies and confessions, issued fines and threw people in prison. He barred the residents of Flushing from holding town meetings, and decreed that their “heresy and unseemly lawlessness” would be rectified by the appointment of a “good, devout, God-fearing and orthodox minister,” whose salary would be paid for by the townspeople. While the Dutch Republic was far and away the most tolerant European nation, Stuyvesant himself frankly admired the relative purity of the New England colonies to the north and complained that his own comprised “the scrapings of all nations.”

The series of actions Stuyvesant took to try to prevent the Quakers from settling is almost a template for what President Trump has done to restrict Muslim immigration.

When Stuyvesant’s frank bigotry (“an abominable sect,” he termed the Quakers) was countered by reference to the Dutch principle of religious toleration, he ruled that the need to uphold “pax et concordia,” peace and harmony, overrode the toleration principle. Mr. Trump likewise shifted from blunt animus (saying during the campaign that he would “strongly consider” closing mosques in the United States) to having his solicitor general argue before the Supreme Court that the travel ban is “not a so-called Muslim ban” but was imposed in the name of national security.

Religious bigotry in New Amsterdam was tied to a fear of the other. Mr. Trump appeases a segment of the population today that holds a similar fear. (“I think Islam hates us,” he said during the campaign, to the delight of his base.) And as with Stuyvesant, Mr. Trump’s actions have tended to favor a particular religious community.

One might give Peter Stuyvesant a break: His was a different time, after all. The current president of the United States, by contrast, seems determined to turn the clock back. It’s as though the last three and a half centuries — not to mention the Constitution and its Bill of Rights — never existed.

But the New Netherland story goes on — and offers some guidance for those who are anguished that our leaders are moving the country in the wrong direction. For the residents of Flushing had another card to play. Four years later, a Flushing Quaker named John Bowne traveled to Holland to appeal Stuyvesant’s decision to punish him for holding an illegal religious service in his home. Bowne won. Stuyvesant’s superiors forced him to permit Quakers to live and worship in the colony.

That decision was practical, and it too has echoes for our time. While some people today are motivated by fear, many others support basic freedoms not just out of airy principle but because they’re good for business. According to pollsters, millions of Americans believe that immigrants contribute to the nation’s economy.

The same was true in the 17th century. The directors of the West India Company, which oversaw New Netherland, were keen to attract settlers. Dutch diversity was a draw, both in the home country and in the North American colony. The colony’s directors feared that Stuyvesant’s bigotry would dissuade others from settling. And contrary to Stuyvesant’s fears that they were a danger, the Quakers went on to become some of the great pacifists of American history.

In her dissenting opinion in the travel ban case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor (who was born and raised in the Bronx) found that Mr. Trump’s ban “was motivated by hostility and animus toward the Muslim faith.”

She summarized her opposition to the majority succinctly: “The United States of America is a nation built upon the promise of religious liberty. Our founders honored that core promise by embedding the principle of religious neutrality in the First Amendment. The court’s decision today fails to safeguard that fundamental principle.”

The episode from America’s early colonial days offers both perspective on that failure and encouragement to push onward. It reminds us that freedom of religion is in a constant struggle with fear of the other, that basic rights are never secure, but are only upheld by constant vigilance. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, “the law of peace, love and liberty,” as the residents of Flushing put it, applies just as well in the 21st century as it did in the 17th.

Russell Shorto (@RussellShorto) is a senior scholar at the New Netherland Research Center and the author of “The Island at the Center of the World” and, most recently, “Revolution Song.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/opinion/travel-ban-supreme-court-new-amsterdam.html