Sir Simon Jenkins either hits the spot in one blow or galvanizes me to a desire to go round and knock his bigoted block off. In the 1990s he conducted a campaign against the legal profession that was notable for its profound ignorance of the law and the profession. But every now and again he produces a gem.

I had not been aware of The Flushing Remonstrance before but alerted to it by his piece this weekend in the Sunday Times I was prompted me to look it up on the internet. I reckon that it is a document that ought to form part of the canon of any decent libertarian along with such as the Bill of Rights and the American Constitution. It might almost form the basis of any free Englishman’s Manifesto for Freedom and Toleration.

As a non-believer one finds the God stuff hard going, but at the core of the document is the message that, whatever your views are, we have taken the decision that you shall be entitled to hold such views even if we disagree with them and we are going to have nothing to so with any form of prohibition against or persecution of those who deviate from the conventional wisdom. It is also a call to arms for the defence of the rule of law.

I love the document in particular for the elegant way in which the townsmen, most of whom seem to have borne English names notwithstanding that this was a part of a Dutch possession, told Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant to take a running jump. It is a model for all of us who aspire to write or say rude things without being rude.

This will give you something of the flavour:

Wee desire therefore in this case not to judge least we be judged, neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand or fall to his own Master.

Or this, an effective exposition of the more pithy ‘do as you would be done by’:

The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage. And because our Saviour sayeth it is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as we desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State;

And finally this in defence of the rule of law:

Therefore if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses, as God shall persuade our consciences, for we are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe man. And this is according to the patent and charter of our Towne, given unto us in the name of the States General, which we are not willing to infringe, and violate, but shall houlde to our patent and shall remaine, your humble subjects, the inhabitants of Vlishing.

What a pity that, with laws that at the very least intimidate us from making any sort of comment about immigrants, homosexuals, ethnic minorities, Muslims and what have you, we seem to have lost our will to protect free speech unconditionally. We would do well to recall this document which strikes me as an indication that our forebears were very much more switched on to the evils of curbing free speech than we are today and is a reminder to us to have a care that, having begun a process of restricting free speech, we do not find ourselves on a slippery slope to censorship and oppression. That is a clear message across the centuries from the Quakers of Flushing in 1657.

Hard won by those who literally suffered for their faith, freedom of speech is a fundamental right that we have neglected properly to protect over the last forty years. Time to make a stand.
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