Churches Tread Lightly with Super Bowl Viewing Parties

As the New Orleans Saints get ready to battle it out with the Indianapolis Colts this weekend, churches are being cautious with their Super Bowl viewing parties to avoid copyright infringement.

And they're starting by leaving "Super Bowl" out of their event title.

Fall Creek Baptist Church is calling their annual event the "Big Game Bash," three years after the Indianapolis church was warned by the National Football League to cancel their Super Bowl viewing party.

The warning – against showing the game outside of a traditional family living room environment – had sparked fear in churches across the country and prompted many to cancel their annual event.

After receiving pressure from faith-based legal groups and members of Congress, the NFL adopted new guidelines last year that eased restrictions for churches.

This year, The Church Law Group has released some tips updating churches on how to host a legal Super Bowl watch party.

"Churches, ministries and other non-profit organizations are free to show the game on large screens in their public facilities without fear of violating copyright laws so long as the church abides by three simple guidelines," David Middlebrook of The Church Law Group said.

While previous rules had prevented churches from screening the Super Bowl on TV screens larger than 55 inches, houses of worship are now allowed to use bigger screens and sound equipment as long as those are used regularly in the course of ministry, Middlebrook explained.

Churches may not charge admission for their viewing parties but they may take up donations to defray the cost of the event.

Lastly, churches are encouraged to call their event something other than "Super Bowl" party.

Church Super Bowl parties ... I mean, Big Game parties are No. 11 on the "Stuff White Christians Like" blog.

"[C]hurch Super Bowl parties marked the beginning of the end for evening services," the blog states.

"With the advent of Super Bowl parties held at church, white Christians can now watch the whole game guilt-free," it adds. "Ingeniously, the Super Bowl is now an evangelism opportunity, thanks to a video that is popped in during halftime featuring the testimonies of Christian NFL players."

While churches can now host viewing parties with more ease, cease-and-desist letters continue to make their way to other parties.

Robert Brunet, co-owner of Uptown's Prytania Theatre in New Orleans had planned to host a free screening of the big game on Sunday but was warned by the NFL that it would violate copyright laws. Just as churches were told they could screen the game as long as they did not collect any admission fee, Brunet thought a free screening at his theater would be legal.

Super Bowl XLIV will take place in Miami on Feb. 7.