Evolution of Individual Rights Prior to the Constitutional Convention Religious freedom is one main reason for the founding of our country. The concept of ideological and religious freedom remains as strong today as it was at the time of the founding of the United States. The founding fathers left their homelands for a country, which promised freedoms well beyond those, available to the masses during the times of early U. S. immigration. Representatives at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (1787) intentionally avoided making strong statements regarding religion due to a firm belief that religious provisions were unnecessary to preserve religious liberty.
This omission was not taken lightly by six states, who went on to propose amendments guaranteeing religious freedom. In fact, two states refused to ratify the document until a Bill of Rights, including religious freedom, was adopted. In 1789, a compilation of modifications and amendments were assembled, which included the statements we collectively call the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (Alexander and Alexander, 1998). The pertinent section of the First Amendment that refers to religion simply states: 'Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' The first part of the statement is commonly known as the 'establishment' clause, while the second part is known as the 'free exercise' clause. Though intended to be clear, concise and decisive in its presentation of the two clauses, the potential for individual interpretation based on individual biases and ephemeral passions continues to allow for impassioned argument to this day. It is the balancing of these two clauses that makes the analysis of religious freedom questions difficult for teachers, administrators and legal professionals.
Often a situation which seems clearly consistent with the establishment clause is not nearly so consistent with the free exercise clause, and vice versa (Braun, 1996). The United States Supreme Court has stated that these clauses require each of the individual states to pursue a course of complete neutrality in all state funded agencies, including public school systems (School Law, Section 23: 1, 1994).