British Columbia

Could the Canadian anthem be banned at NHL playoffs, jokes Naheed Nenshi

Usually when Canadians talk about hockey and religion, they're praying for a win, especially during playoffs. But there could be another link many haven't thought of.

After a Supreme Court ruling on prayers, some wonder if national anthem at hockey games is offensive

Mayor Nenshi jokingly muses about whether the anthem could be banned at NHL games after a Supreme Court ruling. (CBC)

Usually when Canadians talk about hockey and religion, it's connected to their faith in their team and praying for a win, especially during playoffs. But there may be another connection that many haven't thought of.

A recent Supreme Court ruling banning prayer from city council meetings has some wondering if the wording of our national anthem could get it banned from hockey games.

Even Calgary Flames fan (and Mayor) Naheed Nenshi has been musing rhetorically whether the ruling, which bans mayors from starting meetings with a prayer, may eventually lead to nixing O Canada in NHL games.

"Every one of our hockey games has a prayer that includes the word God," Nenshi said. "It's right in our national anthem: God keep our land glorious and free."

Since the mid-1970s, city council meetings in Calgary have begun with a 30-word prayer asking God to guide officials into making wise and knowledgeable decisions and ends with the word amen.

It's a prayer that Nenshi, a practising Ismail Muslim, says at every meeting, and the same one that all his predecessors — Christian or not — have also used.

K'naan song instead of prayer?

Nenshi said he's pretty sure the national anthem wouldn't be banned at NHL games, but joked he's now considering saying the lyrics of K'naan's song Take a Minute as the opening at every council meeting instead.

UBC constitutional legal expert Robin Elliott said the thought of banning the national anthem during the NHL playoffs sends his mind racing with the possibilities.

But there is no charter basis, he said, for limiting professional sport teams from singing the national anthem because they are not government entities.

"It's an interesting question but I don't think that sport teams need to worry," he said.

"Even if someone was to challenge in the courts the use of God in the anthem, our judges would try very hard and find that it can be allowed in a hockey arena."

No nativity but leave hockey alone

Even the Centre For Inquiry, an organization that lobbies to take God references out of public spaces, won't consider touching it in hockey.

In Ottawa, the CFI has requested nativity scenes be removed from a hospital at Christmas time because Eric Adriaans, the national executive director, said any Christian reference will automatically exclude parts of society. 

Adriaans said God shouldn't be in the national anthem but he doubts the Supreme Court decision this week banning prayer from municipal meetings will be applied to changing the lyrics.

"We believe that the reference is archaic," he said. "But even believing that, I don't think we'll see a change and I'm pretty sure this won't affect hockey or the outcome of the playoffs."

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