BY JAMES FARRELL
The National Parks Service (NPS) held a public meeting in Flushing last Wednesday night to discuss its special resource study of the Flushing Remonstrance, a historic document considered a precursor to America’s freedom of religion.
The study, which was ordered by federal legislation pushed by U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), will evaluate the viability of having NPS support resources associated with the Remonstrance as part of the national parks system. The resources are the John Bowne House on Bowne Street and the Quaker Meetinghouse on Northern Boulevard, where Wednesday night’s meeting was held.
The Flushing Remonstrance is a 1657 document signed by 30 citizens of Flushing protesting a policy that banned Quakers from practicing their religion in the area. It is considered a pivotal contribution to religious tolerance in America. The Bowne House was the home of John Bowne, a Flushing Quaker and early proponent of religious tolerance who was arrested for allowing a Quaker meeting in his house in spite of the law. Bowne built the Quaker Meeting House in 1694. It is the oldest active place of worship in New York City.
“This is something that I believe and many of you believe is very important, not just to Flushing but to the entire country,” said Meng at the meeting.
A special resource study does not directly create a national park, according to Lisa Kolakowsky Smith of the NPS, who gave a presentation at the meeting. Its findings may inform a subsequent decision, which is only made through legislation in Congress.
The study looks at whether a site meets four criteria: It is nationally significant, it is a suitable addition to the system, the NPS could feasibly manage it, and there is a need for NPS management. If the site fails to meet any one criterion, the study will be discontinued, Smith said. The study usually takes three years, she added.
“If we do make it through all four [criteria], then we look at a variety of management options,” said Smith. “The management options could include designation as a unit of the national parks system. It could also include designation as a national heritage area, some form of partnerships, or some other idea we haven’t thought of yet.”
To perform the study, the NPS does outreach to see which local resources exist to help the agency learn about the site and its significance. The meeting was the start of that process.
Members of the Queens Historical Society, the Quakers of NYC and the Bowne House Historical Society and others stood up to share their insights on the project.
Andy von Salis of Quakers of NYC suggested that the NPS call on Quakers in Flushing and beyond to access records. Another attendee mentioned that the U.S. Postal Service might have done research after issuing a commemorative Flushing Remonstrance stamp in 1957. Ellen Kodadek, executive and artistic director of Flushing Town Hall, argued that the Remonstrance’s radical call for tolerance should be “required reading.”
One attendee, a member of the congregation of Quakers who still meet at the house, expressed concern.
“I’m still feeling disconcerted because this bill was conceived, written and submitted without our being consulted or informed,” she said. “At any point, can the process stop because we say, ‘No, we don’t want to be part of it’?”
Smith assured the congregant that public support—or lack thereof—for the project would be considered in the study. Adam Sackowitz, a graduate student at St. John’s who worked with Meng on the legislation, reiterated that the legislation only allows a study; no major decisions are being made at this stage. Meng also reassured the congregant.
“My purpose … is to provide more resources for our district, and that’s the bottom line,” said Meng. “Other than that, you are the experts, ultimately if we are successful and if NPS approves, in how it’s to be used.”
Community members are encouraged to submit questions, comments, suggestions and concerns related to the study at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/flushing.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.