State Senator Chap Petersen’s article “Yes, America, Religious Freedom Began in Fairfax County” (Connection, October 18-24, 2018) was a thoughtful and delightful piece of Americana and Fairfax history. One example among many of not only Virginia’s but also Fairfax’s contributions to the founding and formation of the United States.
It was however the little known Flushing Remonstrance, a 1657 petition written by the town clerk of Flushing (borough and county of Queens, N.Y.), Edward Hart, to the Director-General of New Netherland (current day New York City), Peter Stuyvesant, that some consider to be a precursor to the U.S. Constitution’s provision of freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights.
Written to protect the Quakers from an anti-Quaker ordinance, the Flushing Remonstrance remarkably also extended to non-Christians making it more inclusive at the time to include the two contemporary documents often noted in the history of American religious freedom – the 1649 Maryland Toleration Act and the 1663 Rhode Island Royal Charter that restricted theirs to Christians only. More extraordinary is that the petition was written and supported (by 30 signatories) not by the persecuted, but by those who wanted to help and support them. The Flushing Remonstrance predates the Fairfax (County) Resolves by over one hundred years crediting the town of Flushing with being the location of one of the first debates over religious conscience and tolerance in the American colonies.
Gordon H. Goetz