Outgoing state Assemblywoman Ellen Young (D-Flushing) appreciates, perhaps more than some, the value of religious freedom in the United States, as she comes from a culture that does not always hold it in high regard.
Born and raised on Taiwan, the island nation that is one bastion of freedom in the Pacific but is considered a renegade province by China, Young came to the United States when she was 25.
“I think what attracted me and amazed me is the freedom we enjoy here,” Young said Tuesday in recalling her emigration. “Taiwan does have freedom of religion, but at the time I left Taiwan, there wasn’t any freedom of the press, or of assembly, or of speech. That was in 1977.”
So it’s fitting that in one of her last acts of grant dispersal, the one-term lawmaker, defeated in September’s primary by attorney Grace Meng, is putting the taxpayer money at her disposal toward the Bowne House — the true birthplace of American religious freedom.
Young presented the Bowne House Historical Society with a check for $125,000 last Thursday, to help fund the home’s ongoing restoration. She said the money would cover several projects.
“It’s going to make urgently needed repairs to the roof, the floors, pipes and electrical wires, and also upgrade the facility to accommodate a large number of visitors,” Young said. “I’m really proud to represent the birthplace of our freedom of religion. The house forever stands as an inspiring symbol of our American rights.”
Located at 37-01 Bowne St., the house was built around 1661 by John Bowne and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It won its designation as the birthplace of religious freedom in 1662, when Bowne allowed Quakers to meet there in defiance of the Dutch government of what was then New Amsterdam. Bowne was humiliated, jailed and banished as punishment, though he was later released.
Bowne’s action came several years after the delivery of the Flushing Remonstrance, a letter in which the area’s inhabitants declared their intent to allow people of any religion into the settlement, whether they were “Jews, Turks … Egyptians … Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker.”
“Wee desire … not to judge least we be judged,” said the letter’s author, Edward Hart.
Flushing’s stance on freedom of religion, and Bowne’s insistence on putting the community’s words into action, predated the First Amendment by roughly 130 years.
To learn more about the home or to support its restoration, call (718) 359-0528 or visit www.bownehouse.org.
Young will retire, volunteer
Defeated in a primary by Grace Meng, lame duck Assemblywoman Ellen Young said this week that she plans to retire and focus on volunteerism after leaving office.
Young said she will focus on three areas near and dear to her heart: helping senior citizens, working with fellow victims of domestic violence and “greening” Flushing, making it a more environmentally progressive area.
Young had a difficult year, not only losing her Assembly seat — in a district with an unusally high turnover rate — but also suffering injuries when she was hit by a car while riding her bicycle.
But none of that soured her on Flushing, where she lives with her daughter, Coral.
“I’ve been a lifelong volunteer and advocate for our community for 30 years,” she said. “I really love my community. I’ll stay around.”
— Peter C. Mastrosimone