Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New York City As An Example of Religious Freedom

Mayor Bloomberg went against popular opinion last week and decided to back the building of the mosque near Ground Zero. By holding the press conference at Governors Island, with the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan in the background, Mayor Bloomberg stated that on the island that he stood on "the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted". He would later describe the efforts of both the Jews and Quakers to establish their religious rights within the New Amsterdam colony (as I have written about in both the Who is Asser Levy and the Flushing Remonstrance posts).

Unlike the other colony in Massachusetts with their shining city on the hill who banned those who did not have the same religious beliefs as they did (while banning those of the same faith who aided them get to the 'New World" while exiled in Europe), the New Amsterdam colony was unique. I won't say that it was for altruistic reasons that religious freedom came about in New Amsterdam. No it was simply about one thing: Money.

The Dutch West India company set up the New Amsterdam colony for one reason and one reason only: To Make Money. With so many people of different races, creeds and religions coming into such a small and confined space it was inevitable that there would be conflicts. The heads of the Dutch West India company realized that to make money, concessions must be made and one of those concessions was the freedom of religion. The company wasn't there to regulate religious beliefs but to ensure that the colony was profitable. Happy colonists meant profitable colonists. This is why the first Jewish congregation was set up in 1657 and the Quakers were able to practice their religion without fear of persecution in 1662.

It is with these "seeds" as Mayor Bloomberg eloquently spoke about on Governors Island that New York City has always been the place for religious freedom. It hasn't always been easy. But that is one of the reasons why Historically New York City will always be different from not only every city in the United States but in the entire world. Whether that remains to be seen with the protests against Mosques not at Ground Zero but also in Staten Island. Time will tell.


For Further Reading:
- Click Here for the full transcript of Mayor Bloomberg's speech from Celeste Katz's Blog page on the New York Daily News website


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