Bill Would End Separation of Church and Super Bowl

Sen. Arlen Specter introduced the bill.
Sen. Arlen Specter introduced the bill. (Lauren Victoria Burke - AP)
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By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill this week that would allow houses of worship to show football games on big-screen televisions.

The legislation was among a flurry of action taken this week as the result of an article Friday in The Washington Post reporting that churches were canceling Super Bowl parties out of fear of lawsuits from the NFL if they showed the game on jumbo TV screens.

The league has sought to enforce its copyright of the Super Bowl by sending letters to churches warning them that showing the game on big-screen sets violates the league's copyright. The NFL allows sports bars to show the game on large TV sets but objects to similar viewings by other out-of-home large assemblies.

Under Specter's legislation, religious organizations that wish to show professional football games would be declared exempt.

"The legislation simply provides churches with a limited yet justifiable exemption to allow them to bring their congregation together to watch the Super Bowl," Specter (R-Pa.) said in a floor statement when he introduced the legislation Monday. "In a time when our country is divided by war and anxious about a fluctuating economy, these types of events give people a reason to come together in the spirit of camaraderie."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said that the league is reviewing the bill. Specter is also expected to raise the issue with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when he meets with him soon to discuss the league's investigation of the spying scandal involving the New England Patriots.

Other legislators are also weighing in.

Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), a former Redskins quarterback and evangelical Christian who has spoken at church Super Bowl parties, plans to introduce legislation similar to Specter's in the House by the end of the week, a Shuler spokesman said yesterday.

And Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said he is talking to the NFL about coming up with a legislative or nonlegislative solution to the situation. Broun spokesman Derek V. Baker said Broun has received numerous calls from constituents in his Bible Belt district expressing concern about how the law would affect their churches' Super Bowl events.

"We just want to make sure that churches are not being unfairly discriminated against," Baker said. "We want them to be treated fairly."

This week, a group of Christian leaders also wrote to Goodell, calling on the NFL commissioner to allow churches to show league games on their large television screens.

"The NFL allows the Super Bowl and other NFL games to be aired on Sundays in bars and even in casinos as hundreds stand by gambling on the outcome," the letter said. "Yet it is churches the NFL chooses to crack down on?"

The NFL needs to "rethink the whole process and what they're trying to accomplish," said Gary L. Cass, chairman of the San Diego-based Christian Anti-Defamation Commission. Others who signed the letter included Paul M. Weyrich, chairman of the Coalitions for America, and the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition.

NFL spokesman McCarthy said that as long as churches do not charge for the event and do not use televisions that exceed the 55-inch maximum size set out in the copyright act, "we have no objection to special, one-time Super Bowl parties, whether at churches or any other location."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company