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Churches Reluctant to Challenge 
Super Bowl Party Rules

BY LILLY FOWLER                                                                                            ©2008 Religion News Service
ootball fans who happen to be churchgoers might be in trouble again this year if they choose to attend a Super Bowl party at their usual place of worship.
According to Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the National Football League, the law that prohibits congregations from viewing the biggest game of the year on large TV screens still stands. "It's not a church issue, it's a copyright issue," McCarthy says.
Prohibiting churches from showing the February 3 game on TV screens larger than 55 inches is the way the NFL protects the network that paid to broadcast the game, McCarthy said. Large Super Bowl gatherings--whether they happen at churches or theaters--erode TV ratings and thus could impact lucrative advertising revenues.
John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia, says he is disappointed that he can't find a church that's willing to sue for the right to host large screenings. "They ought to stand up and fight back," he says.
Last year, NFL attorneys warned Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis against hosting a Super Bowl screening. The church was unwilling to sue the football league over the incident.
"The Bible teaches us to obey the law of the land," said Pastor John Newland, when asked recently about the church's unwillingness to go to court. Newland did add, however, that the law didn't make much sense to him, especially given the fact that televisions larger than 55 inches are now fairly common.
Still, because Newland believes the NFL has the right to do what it wants with its copyrighted material, Fall Creek plans to do things differently this year. Members of the congregation will gather at various homes--not the church--to view the game.
Not all churches are shying away from hosting a Super Bowl bash. Pastor David Greene of Second Baptist Church in Indianapolis says his church still plans to have a party. Greene says last year he wrote the NFL and confessed that he expected hundreds of people to watch the game at the church. Greene says he never heard back, despite notifying the NFL about the large projection screen the church planned to use.
This year, Greene expects the viewing party to be well attended once again. "I'm assuming I still got the green light," he says.
Greene also says he doesn't think the NFL should come after any church, but instead should work with congregations to find a solution, especially when many churches are using the event only to encourage people to come together in a safe and positive way. "My prayer is that the NFL is rethinking" the issue, he said. "I know they wouldn't want every pastor to stand up and say don't watch football. ... I know they wouldn't want that."


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