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NFL Changes Rule, Churches Can Host Super Bowl Parties

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Jan. 15, 2009) -- In anticipation of Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1, 2009, The Rutherford Institute is reminding church officials they are free to host Super Bowl viewing parties on large-screen TVs at their churches.

After intense pressure from The Rutherford Institute and members of Congress in 2008, the NFL acceded to demands that it change its policies in order to accommodate churches that wish to show the Super Bowl on big-screen televisions.

In a Feb. 19, 2008 letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that the League would not object to live showings of the Super Bowl by religious organizations, regardless of screen size, as long as the viewings are free and are on premises that the church uses on a routine and customary basis. The NFL stated its intention to implement the policy starting with this year's Super Bowl.

"As long as they follow the basic guidelines set forth by the NFL, churches can now rest assured that they are free to have football parties and show the Super Bowl game," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have been working on this issue since prior to the Super Bowl game in 2007, when the NFL warned churches that viewing the Super Bowl broadcasts on large-screen televisions at church-sponsored gatherings infringed on the League's copyright in the broadcast. Institute attorneys also worked with several members of Congress to craft legislation that would create an exemption to the Copyright Law for religious organizations.

The NFL's policy came to light in early 2007 after NFL attorneys reportedly warned officials at Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis against hosting a "Super Bowl Bash" to which church members and guests were invited to watch Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears on a wall projector at the church. Pointing out that the NFL makes an exception to its mass-viewing policy for sports bars that show televised sports on a regular basis, The Rutherford Institute urged League officials to revise the policy.

Controversy over the policy continued through the broadcast of Super Bowl XLII last year, culminating in a national outcry among members of Congress and Super Bowl fans alike. Consequently, after consulting with The Rutherford Institute, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) proposed legislation to amend the Copyright Act to exempt churches from any prohibition on displaying football broadcasts so long as the church does not charge a fee.

The following are some basic guidelines for churches interested in hosting Super Bowl viewing parties:
1. churches can legally host Super Bowl parties on their premises
2. churches may show the game on whatever size screen they want
3. while churches may not charge admission, they may take up a donation to help with the cost of the event, if desired
4. finally, to avoid any copyright infringements, churches may want to call their event a "Big Game Party" rather than a "Super Bowl Party"


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