Modern notions of religious freedom

Since the purpose of this project is to advance a compelling story about the origins of the United States, its good to give room to current historical debates about the time. Thats why Id like to show you this essay on religious freedom in New Amsterdam. Its written by Thomas Broderick, a teacher of social studies and American history at a Connecticut middle school. Interesting, because he is one of the people who will actually teach American school children about this part of American history. Its great to see him contributing to this debate.

Undoubtedly, the Dutch were the most tolerant society in 17th century Europe, but I hope to show that the Republic’s ideas of toleration were far from our modern notions of religious freedom.

He goes on to show that people of different religions were far from free to practice it openly. Much had to do with existing power structures in the colony, but it was a fact for the rulers of the colony that they had to tolerate diversity in some sort of way, since the colony itself was a mix of people from all over the world.

In my opinion, the value of the story of New Amsterdam is that it shows that America did not just come from a colony of religious fundamentalists who were looking for a new continent to let their orthodox ideas come to full bloom, but that a fundamental part of the American recipe was also a town where there was at least room for discussion. Where diversity lead to a more interesting type of society than one that was looking for a city on a hill.

And it seems that that point survives in Brodericks essay:

h. I believe the true Dutch legacy is not one of toleration but of discussion. New Amsterdam and the Republic show us that a robust, open public discourse is the surest way to eventual social improvement.

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