In 1976, country and western singer Bobby Bare a song written by Paul Craft called “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goal Posts of Life.” The song appeared on his album “Winners and Other Losers.” Here are the first two verses:
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life End over end neither left nor to right Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life. Make me, oh make me, Lord more than I am Make me a piece in your master game plan Free from the earthly temptation below I’ve got the will, Lord if you’ve got the toe.
(The entire lyrics and an mp3.com version of the song may be found here).
There is a surprising amount of exegesis on this song, including this from one, surprisingly from the West Coast (sometimes called the Left Coast). The Pacific Theological Society from Berkeley, California writes on its website).
With football providing the basic metaphor, Jesus is portrayed as both leader (the strategist with a master game plan) and player--the one who kicks the ball for a field goal. This is a wonderful intertwining of prophet, priest and king. Jesus is on the field with us, able to be where we are, but also bringing divine revelation which will be revealed to his team, and with the power (athletic prowess) to provide the grace for the willing supplicant to attain the righteousness needed. The football's inability to kick itself emphasizes the need for grace and divine intervention, which Jesus is there to provide. The importance of the Body of Christ is also brought in, this is not just a "me and Jesus" endeavor, but the communion of saints has a role. The salvation of one individual requires a team effort. This setting includes the concept of an opposing team--"the enemy." There is, a certain ambiguity in the time factor here. The desire to go through the goal posts suggests the aim of achieving righteousness and a "holy death." But the idea of being part of the "master game plan" when "free from the earthly temptation below" suggests activity in the after-life. The communion of saints, and their role in the "offensive line" may be for now, to protect the kick, to ensure no interference in the field goal, and/or for the master game plan that is for the time when they are free. Perhaps it is for both times.
This is indeed making wine out of water.
What you may ask do football and Jesus have to do with copyright? Plenty, as this article in the February 7th Washington Post shows:
Bill Would End Separation of Church and Super Bowl Jacqueline L. Salmon Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, February 7, 2008; Page A06 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."
It is hard to see how churches are being discriminated against or treated unfairly as Representative Baker wondered, if, as the NFL stated, the same rule, a maximum of a 55 inch set, applies to everyone. That size is of course arbitrary, and is based on the exemption in Section 110(5) for a “single receiving apparatus of a kind commonly used in private homes.” That size is increasing along with mortgage defaults, but so long as the standard is a flexible one, adaptable over time, the size will never be fixed. (Certainly was provided for the size of the venue in the 1998 amendments to Section 110(5), but those amendments led to an adverse WTO panel ruling). The purpose of the initiative seems to be to treat churches more favorably, not to reverse treatment that unfairly singles them out.
Here is the text of the bill, which seeks to amend Section 110(5):
Section 110(5) of title 17, United States Code, is amended-- (1) in subparagraph (A), by inserting `or (C)' after `(B)'; (2) in subparagraph (B)(v), by adding `or' after the semicolon; and (3) by adding at the end the following: `(C) communication by an entity defined under section 3121(w)(3)(A) or (B) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 of a transmission or retransmission embodying a performance of a professional football contest intended to be received by the general public, originated by a radio or television broadcast station licensed as such by the Federal Communications Commission, or if an audiovisual transmission, by a cable system or satellite radio, if-- `(i) no direct charge is made to see or hear the transmission or retransmission; `(ii) during the communication no money is accepted or received by the organization; and `(iii) the transmission or retransmission is not further retransmitted by the establishment where the transmission or retransmission is received.'.
Here are Senator Specter’s remarks in introducing the bill:
Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I rise to introduce legislation which would modify the limitations on churches showing the Super Bowl under the NFL copyright franchise. Churches across the country were notified by the NFL not to show the Super Bowl on a big screen because it infringed their copyright. There is an exception under the copyright laws for bars. It is anomalous that you can go to a bar and see the Super Bowl, but you cannot go to a church for a social gathering and do the same. This legislation will correct that. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that my full statement be printed in the Record: Few images are more distinctly American than that of a religious community coming together not only in prayer but in fellowship to watch a major sporting event. For years, houses of worship across this country have opened up their doors and welcomed their congregation into their halls to watch the Super Bowl. They have provided families with an alternative to going to the local bar down the street to cheer for their favorite team. However, if the National Football League has its way, such gatherings will come to an end. A strict reading of the copyright code prohibits virtually anyone from bringing a large group of people together and watching the Super Bowl. The one exception to this general rule is ``food service and drinking establishments.'' This exemption allows sports bars to show a sporting event, so long as they do so on screens that do not exceed fifty-five, 55, inches. Although the law is nearly impossible to enforce for Super Bowl parties held in places other than food service and drinking establishments, the NFL has turned its sights on churches and other houses of worship, which use the large screens normally reserved for displaying hymns to show the Super Bowl to their congregation. Over the past several years, the NFL has begun sending churches across the country cease-and-desist letters, warning them not to show the game on their big-screen televisions and threatening them with a copyright infringement suit if they do. These religious establishments--many of which do not have enough money to even think about defending themselves against a giant such as the NFL--have had little choice but to shut down these gatherings. This is unfortunate because many houses of worship have used these events to reach out to their members, as well as
potential new members, particularly young people. As Reverend Thomas Omholt, senior pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran in Washington, DC, stated in a recent Washington Post article, ``It takes people who are not coming frequently, or who have fallen away, and shows them that the church can still have some fun.'' These churches do not charge their members to watch the game nor have they used them as fundraisers. Rather, these events provide churches with a means of connecting with the greater community and new potential members of their congregation. The uniqueness of these events is underscored by the fact that these churches do not use the Academy Awards or other popular television programming as a means of outreach. When Congress created the sports bar exemption in 1998, they did so based on the rationale that the display of copyrighted performances--such as football games--in sports bars and similar establishments did not negatively impact the overall viewership for the game and value of the rights to the game. The same rationale applies to churches. Allowing churches to show the game would not diminish the overall viewership for the Super Bowl. If anything, it increases the viewership by making it a social event and bringing people out to watch the game who might not have watched it at home or in a bar. Today, I am introducing legislation that will create a new
exemption for religious establishments. This legislation will provide churches and other houses of worship with the protection that they need to gather to watch the Super Bowl without fear of being sued for copyright infringement. This exemption will have limitations. For example, in order to qualify for the exemption, a church may not charge a fee to view the game. This will ensure that religious establishments do not unfairly profit from the NFL's copyright. Further, the exemption only applies to the live broadcast of a professional football game at the church or house of worship. A church may not tape the game to show at a later date or rebroadcast the game to another location. In other words, the legislation simply provides churches with a limited yet justifiable exemption to allow them to bring their congregation together to watch the Super Bowl. I am aware that some may argue that this bill implicates constitutional concerns. This is not the first time that we have recognized the unique needs of the religious community in the Copyright Code. Indeed, the section of the Copyright Code that we are amending already has an exemption for houses of worship and other religious assemblies for the use of copyrighted works of a religious nature. Although the Constitution does not require the creation of an exception in this case, it is reasonable to pursue one. In preparing this measure, my staff has researched the issue and spoken with some of the foremost experts in the field of First Amendment law. They share our view that this legislation appears
consistent with the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. This legislation will not further entangle Government with religion but instead accommodates the needs of houses of worship and recognizes their important role in the communities they serve. In a time when our country is divided by war and anxious about a fluctuating economy, these type of events give people a reason to come together in the spirit of camaraderie. We, Congress, need to recognize the unique need that these events satisfy and provide religious establishments with the protection that they need. I urge my colleagues to join me in this effort.
It is difficult to see how there is a religious imperative that churches need to have a TV screen 200 inches large to have their congregants watch the very secular Superbowl (think the religious groups' uproar about the infamous wardrobe malfunction) while, say, the Elks or the Moose (or any other fraternal organizations named after animals with large horns) have to be satisfied with 55 inches; I assume members of those groups are pretty chummy with each other too, exhibiting the requisite “spirit of camaraderie” and solace in these difficult times. This is not to say that all nonprofits groups shouldn’t be able to watch free broadcast sports games with a 1,000 inch screen so long as there is no direct or indirect benefit obtained; it is only to note that churches seem an odd choice for such manna. One could truly without discrimination amend Section 110(4) to treat all nonprofit groups the same, something that would definitely withstand constitutional challenge.
I don’t know the esteemed First Amendment experts consulted, but it should be noted that the only copyright law ever struck down as unconstitutional was one struck down on Establishments grounds, United Christian Scientists v. Christian Science Bd. of Directors, First Church of Christ, Scientist, 829 F.2d 1152 (D.C. Cir. 1987)(extending the term of protection for the works of Mary Baker Eddy).