Activist seeks return of Flushing Remonstrance

By Scott Sieber

David Oats, president of Flushing Meadows Corona Park World's Fair Association, wants to return the Flushing Remonstrance, a tattered parchment signed in Flushing on Dec. 27, 1657 by 28 Flushing and Jamaica leading citizens that first brought the concept of religious freedom to America.Next year is the 350th anniversary of the signing and Oats said recently that the landmark event needs to be celebrated locally with the actual document. It is currently stored in a vault away from the public eye in Albany.”This is to the state a history of the Dutch colonial period, which it is, but it's much more than that,” Oats said. “This thing has meaning.”The document condemns then Gov. Peter Stuyvesant's ban on religious practices other than the Dutch Reformed religion.John Bowne, who provided shelter for the Quakers' religious services in what has today become known as the Bowne House, violated that edict and was consequently exiled from Flushing for his actions. He sailed to Ireland and traveled to Holland, where he appealed to the Dutch West India Company, which agreed with him that all should be free to practice their religion.Oats said that on the anniversary of the document that started it all, Flushing should play host for good.”It should be the focal point for ongoing cultural discussion about the role of faith, religion and freedom of speech,” Oats said. “There are so many issues involved that this could serve as a focal point for.”He said he will travel to Albany to appeal to newly elected Gov. Eliot Spitzer to bring the Remonstrance back to Flushing and store it in the Queens Museum, where proper temperature and security can be maintained permanently.Oats was successful once before in bringing the document back to the Flushing Library, but only on a loan.Today, he said, he is looking for a “permanent loan” to keep the document in Queens.”For Queens, the city, the country and the world, let it do what it's supposed to do,” Oats said. “There's a pride that people can say we came from a place that had heroes like that.” Reach reporter Scott Sieber by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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