neighborhood of Flushing in New York City borough of Queens, just outside
Manhattan, has been a model for religious freedom since the 1600s. Back then, members of The Society of
Friends, or Quakers, began arriving in what was then a Dutch colony, fleeing religious persecution
colony's director-general barred the Friends from practicing their religion. In
protest, the citizens of Flushing wrote a document called The Flushing
Remonstrance. The document
pleaded with the governor to grant the Quakers the right to worship. Eventually, they succeeded, and today
Flushing is home to more than 200 places of Worship. VOA's Paige Kollock reports.
just one of many religions practiced in Flushing. One reason the Hindu Temple Society of North America chose this
neighborhood is because of its large immigrant population.
Indians, Koreans, Chinese, Mexicans, African-Americans, Greeks and others.
many different houses of worship reflect the area's diversity and generate
resident John Liu was born in Taiwan.
He was the first Asian American elected to the New York City Council.
"We have Quakers, we have descendants of Huguenots, we have Catholics,
Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims. Every religion under the sun I think you can find
in downtown Flushing," Liu said.
Quakers were ostracized in the 17th century, a man named John Bowne donated his
house for their meetings. Bowne and other Flushing residents wrote a document
called The Flushing Remonstrance, which argued that the Quakers should have the
right to worship.
jailed. He was eventually freed, and a
Quaker Meeting House was built.
Kindler is a long-standing member of this "Friends Meeting House." It is more
than 300 years old, the oldest house of worship in New York State.
have long linked the Remonstrance as sort of being like the First Amendment to
the Constitution, guaranteeing religious freedom," Kindler said.
religious groups came to Flushing after the Quakers. Richard Allen founded the
African Methodist Episcopal Church in the city of Philadelphia in 1787 to
escape racism in the Methodist Church.
Williams is Executive Secretary of the Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal
Church now affiliated with Allen's AME Church. "All the African-Americans
would have to sit in the balcony," Williams said. "And one day they came down
to the altar and they were kneeling at the altar, and the parishioners told
them that they had to move, and they said:
'Ok, just give us a minute and we'll never come back here again.' And that's when he went to the blacksmith's
shop and started the African Methodist Episcopal Church."
This is the
neighborhood's first African-American congregation. Flushing's ethnic makeup
may change, but church members like Williams are as rooted as the pews they
says they also committed to respect for others and their religious beliefs.
long as they don't bother me, I don't bother them," Williams said. "If I'm ever invited to go to one of their
churches, or one of their services, I don't have a problem with it, and they
don't have a problem coming here. You
don't make people un-believe and you don't tell them, you know, my religion is
better than yours."
road, at The Muslim Center of New York, Imam Mohammad Sherwani says Muslims
worldwide have an unfair reputation for violence. In Flushing, he says, Muslims
are treated with respect. "People are very nice, people are educated:
Muslims, Christians, Jewish both, all they are living together, peacefully,
harmoniously, in cooperation, love," Imam Sherwani said.
Liu says harmony does not always come easily. The community works at it.
have problems? Sure, of course," Liu said. "There are always rivalries between ethnic groups. There's competition for space and resources
among religious groups, but, all in all, we get together very well here in
Flushing, and that's the legacy that they left us 350 years ago."
It is a
legacy that may be tested as the population grows and space shrinks, but a
legacy that people in Flushing say is as important to them as their faith.