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NFL Reverses Call On Church Parties

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The NFL, which found itself on the receiving end of protests and controversy after it objected to churches showing the Super Bowl on big-screen televisions, has reversed course and will now permit the viewings.

In a letter to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would not object to "live showings -- regardless of screen size -- of the Super Bowl" by religious organizations.

In response to questions from Hatch, Goodell said in the letter, dated Feb. 19, the NFL will implement the policy starting with next year's Super Bowl.

A story in The Washington Post about churches -- most of them evangelical -- canceling their Super Bowl parties because they were afraid of lawsuits from the NFL if they showed the game on their jumbo screens kicked up a storm of protest on Capitol Hill and among some conservative leaders.

The league has said that organizations that host public viewings of its games on television screens larger than 55 inches violate its copyright. Sports bars are exempted. Last year, the league sent letters to two churches advising them of the policy.

In response, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) proposed legislation that would allow houses of worship to show football games on big-screen televisions and raised the issue with Goodell at a meeting last week. Other congressional representatives threatened similar bills.

In its letter, the NFL said it would not object to big-screen viewings in the churches as long as the showings are free and are on premises that the church uses on a "routine and customary" basis.

Yesterday, public officials and church leaders praised the NFL's action.

In a statement, Hatch said he was grateful that the NFL was making the accommodation. "Many families want to enjoy the Super Bowl in a group atmosphere -- but obviously aren't going to take their kids to a sports bar."

Steve Holley, executive pastor of Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, which canceled its big-screen Super Bowl party this year because it feared a lawsuit, said he is thrilled at the new policy.

"It's decided to set aside profit for community spirit," Holley said. "I'm encouraged by that."

-- Jacqueline L. Salmon

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