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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Why Do Church-State Relations Change? Politics, Institutions, and Federal Funding for Parochial Schools in Australia and America, 1945-1985


While church-state relations are increasingly theorized as an important independent variable in sociology, the processes whereby they change remain undertheorized. In this paper, I consider three existing theories in light of the divergent experiences of Australia and the United States since World War II. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, both nations passed legislation to improve science facilities in secondary schools. This legislation constituted the first significant federal involvement in education policy for each country, and both bills provided financial support for both public and private (mostly religious) schools. Whereas in Australia, this legislation paved the way for large-scale government support for religious schools, the American legislation had no such effect. I argue that, while common structural forces favoring federal support for religious schools were at work in both nations, these forces were stymied in the United States by an inhospitable institutional environment. Catholic advocates in the United States were constrained by the legacy of previous legislative battles, the existence of a body of church-state jurisprudence, and the way they were incorporated into the party system. Based on this analysis, I set forth an alternative political-institutional theory for why church-state relations change that better explains this outcome.

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