The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) regulates employee-benefit plans to protect the interests of employees who participate in these plans. To avoid undue governmental intrusion in church affairs, the Act provides an exemption for plans established by churches. Some non-church entities have begun to claim this exemption.
In June 2011, the City of South Bend approved a plan to purchase a piece of land for $1.2 million and donate it to a Catholic school (St. Joseph's High School) to use for a football stadium and other athletic facilities. The religious school was handpicked by the City to receive the land, and the City permitted the school to use the land for religious purposes, including prayers at athletic events.
A group called Friends of the Cross received $20,000 from the Illinois legislature to refurbish Bald Knob Cross, which the group claims is the largest cross in the western hemisphere. The earmark was awarded by a state senator out of what is essentially a legislative slush fund, and the earmark required the executive branch to provide the taxpayer funds.
For nearly a decade, the Elmbrook School District near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, held its high-school graduation ceremonies in the sanctuary of an evangelical Christian church. A cross towered over the dais -- upon which graduation speakers addressed the audience and graduating seniors received their diplomas.