Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Flushing Remonstrance: 350th Anniversary


Peter Stuyvesant, the Director-General of the Dutch colony of the New Netherlands , was most certainly not an exponent of religious freedom. In 1654, for example, he attempted to prevent Jews from settling in what was then New Amsterdam. Similar intolerance was shown by Stuyvesant for Lutherans and Catholics.

In 1657, Stuyvesant issued a ban on Quakers. On 27 December 1657, some Englishmen who resided in the Village of Flushing ("Vlishing" in Dutch), responded to Stuyvesant's prohibition with a letter, in which they informed Stuyvesant that people of all religious persuasions would be welcomed in Flushing. That letter became known as the Flushing Remonstrance.

The signers paid dearly for their audacity, but the people of Flushing continued to harbor Quakers.

Less than seven years later, it was Stuyvesant and his fellow adherents of the Dutch Reformed Church doctrine whose free exercise of religion was threatened when the British seized control of New Amsterdam. The 1664 Articles of Capitulation, negotiated by the Dutch with the grudging acquiescence of Stuyvesant, specifically provided that the "Dutch here shall enjoy the liberty of their consciences in Divine Worship and church discipline." The Flushing Remonstrance surely was recalled in the minds, if not on the tongues, of the Dutchmen who negotiated the surrender of their colony to the British.

In 1673, when the Dutch regained the colony from the British (who had named it New York), the Dutch reciprocally imposed the same surrender terms upon the British, including the religious liberty rights for Englishmen. In 1674, the Treaty of Westminster settled the disputes between the British and the Dutch, and in doing so returned New York to British control. Freedom of religion was once again guaranteed.

The spirit of the Flushing Remonstrance went major league when the American colonies broke free of England and drew up the United States Constitution. The New York delegation found nothing in the document to ensure the various personal liberties, including freedom of worship, which they had enjoyed for more than a century under colonial rule. The 10 Amendments constituting the Bill of Rights were New York's inducement to subscribe to the Constitution, and indeed, the very first provision of the very first Amendment continues to this day to guarantee Americans free exercise of their religious inclinations.

The signing and dispatch of the Flushing Remonstrance, then, was a key root of American religious freedom and other freedoms as well. The freedom environment so provided attracted (and continues to attract) people from diverse cultures, who, collectively, have made America the political and economic world power it is today.

And today, the neighborhoods of Flushing, New York are home to the most culturally diverse population in America, if not the world. Every day, thousands of individuals, representing diverse religious faiths, pass within a few yards of where the Flushing Remonstrance was written, all free to worship according to their persuasions.

As for the original Flushing Remonstrance document, it now is the property of the State of New York. From 5 December 2007 through 7 January 2008, the Remonstrance is on loan to the Flushing Library for public display, after which it is to be returned to the New York State Archives in Albany.

Many people in Flushing are now trying to arrange a permanent loan of the Remonstrance to the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows, so that the document can come home to where it belongs. I support that effort. [Disclosure: Though I do not reside in Queens County, I often work there.] For one thing, there are those who would take away our freedom of worship and impose their own religious regimens upon us. A strong tradition of religious liberty among the populace goes a long way towards preserving our freedom. It is vital that the public have a tangible and recognizable symbol of religious freedom ensconced in a place of honor. What better tangible artifact of religious freedom can there be than the original Flushing Remonstrance? Placing the Remonstrance document in the Museum will underscore the importance of the free exercise of our faiths, and further reinforce the tradition of religious liberty.

And, on a practical note, the folks at the New York State Archives have not been particularly good stewards of the document, what with the 1911 fire in Albany which scorched the Flushing Remonstrance. The museum curators in Flushing know how to exhibit things to the public, and can give the document a more dignified venue than the obscure and not-so-fireproof vault in Albany.

And so, on this 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance, I join the diverse chorus of voices to demand the return of the Remonstrance to Queens. Let the document serve as a symbol of freedom, an artifact of public reverence, and a light unto the nations of the world!



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Friday, December 21, 2007

Does the Rabbi Keep a Kosher Kitchen?


"When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king!"

The news from Los Angeles is a big tax evasion and money laundering bust which has ensnared Naftali Tzvi Weisz, the Grand Rabbi of Spinka in Boro Park. The details of the bust, including whether or not Rabbi Weisz is or is not innocent or guilty, are not particularly relevant for the purposes of this blog posting. All of the suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and such presumption will pertain to this posting as well.

Imprimis, there are a number of rabbis who are known as the Grand Rabbi of the Spinka hassidim. Thus, Rebbetzin Sarah Bluma Horowitz, the Spinka Rebbetzin who died in a tragic traffic accident in the summer of 2006, was married to a different Spinka Grand Rabbi (and she might still be alive today had she been wearing a seatbelt, but that's a whole different ball of wax).

Assuming, again, that the Rabbi is in fact innocent and will ultimately be exonerated from these charges, the very fact of the indictment and arrest are problematic. I have taught my son to respect rabbis (though, like his father, he does question them from time to time), and I want people to know that the Torah is a good thing and that my religious Jewish lifestyle is a good thing.

Even if the Rabbi is exonerated, the very fact of his arrest and indictment has complicated my life, even though I am not connected with the Rabbi's religious institutions, do not live in the Rabbi's neighborhood, and indeed, do not recall ever meeting him. From my days with the various government agencies, the rule was (and still is) that avoiding impropriety is not enough; the very appearance of impropriety must also be avoided.

And, of course, the enemies of the Jewish people will also try to get some traction out of this one.

I have read the 40-page Indictment instrument (which does not seem to be posted anywhere, but which was graciously e-mailed to me by the Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Attorney's office). Seems that there is an unindicted co-conspirator, one "R.K.," who seems to be cooperating with the prosecution. Most social groups view snitches with at least some degree of negativity; in the religious Jewish community this degree of negativity rises to the level of disdain and revulsion. Is "R.K." singing in return for lenity? Very likely! But, from a prosecutorial standpoint, the question must also be asked as to just how credible a witness he might make. My take on it: Excellent chance that if the matter goes to trial, "R.K." will be put on the witness stand and will sing his song of sixpence before the jury. But "R.K.'s" testimony will likely not be the prosecution's sole (or even chief) evidence. From the transactions described in the Indictment, there likely will be a confirmatory paper trail.

In the Spring of 2004, the IRS sent out numerous signals that it would soon be paying enhanced attention to tax-exempt organizations. Then IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson, in his testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, gave hints that churches and similar religious organizations would thenceforth no longer be sacrosanctly immune from the IRS's scrutiny.

The first sentence of the US Attorney's press release announcing the indictment reads as follows:

"The Grand Rabbi of Spinka, a religious group within Orthodox Judaism, was arrested this morning along with several associates charged in an indictment that alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy to defraud U.S. government agencies, to operate a underground money transfer system and to launder money through an Israeli bank."

And of what relevance, many are now asking, is the fact the people involved may be Orthodox Jews? Isn't that first sentence grounded in some sort of bigotry?

My take on it: No! The fact that the defendants are Orthodox Jews is only incidental. But the fact that it involves religious organizations is paramount!! The press release is sending the metamessage that religious groups can no longer find refuge in their religious observance from the requirements to obey the tax laws!

Of no less significance than the first sentence in the US Attorney's press release is the last sentence in the document: "The case is part of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS-Criminal Investigation."

"Ongoing investigation?" I very strongly anticipate some additional blackbirds to come out of the pie.

I certainly hope that the Rabbi is exonerated in the proceedings to follow, but am not willing to make book that such a state of affairs is in fact the case. Let the legal process move forward, and let the chips fall wherever they may.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Which is it, Osama?

Apparently, Osama Bin Laden (or someone purported by Al Jazeera to be Osama) is taking responsibility for the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Wait a minute!!

Weren't the Muslims claiming that the Israelis were behind it?

So which is it? The Muslims want it both ways!!!

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