Scouts consider oath for atheists

Scouts at World Scout Jamboree in 2007 Scout membership has increased by more than 80,000 since 2005

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The UK Scout Association is considering an alternative oath for atheists.

The 105-year-old movement is launching a consultation to see if members would back a Scout Promise for those who feel unable to pledge a "duty to God".

Versions of the oath already exist for the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist faiths, but this is the first time such an adaptation has been considered.

In March, the National Secular Society said atheist children and potential Scout leaders were being put off.

Membership of the Scouts has increased from 444,936 in 2005 to 525,364 this year.

But the movement needs more volunteers - it says that at present there are over 35,000 young people on waiting lists.

Girlguiding UK has also announced it will launch a consultation on the wording of their promise, which will start on 4 January 2013.

'Values-based movement'

More than 50 scout groups catering for young people drawn mainly from Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities have opened in the last 10 years.

The Scout Association says its existing promise, which also contains a vow of allegiance to the Queen, would continue to be used alongside any new version.

Current alternative wordings

  • Hindus can say "My Dharma" instead of "God"
  • Muslims can say "Allah" and the phrase "In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent"
  • Buddhists can say "My Dharma"
  • Non UK citizens can replace the phrase "duty to The Queen" with "duty to the country in which I am now living"

UK Scout Chief Commissioner Wayne Bulpitt added: "We are a values-based movement and exploring faith and religion will remain a key element of the Scouting programme. That will not change.

"However, throughout our 105-year history, we have continued to evolve so that we remain relevant to communities across the UK.

"We do that by regularly seeking the views of our members and we will use the information gathered by the consultation to help shape the future of Scouting for the coming years."

The existing Scout Promise reads: "On my honour, I promise that I will do my best, to do my duty to God and to the Queen, to help other people and to keep the Scout Law."

Start Quote

It is important that the promise should be inclusive. ”

End Quote Andrew Copson British Humanist Association

The alternative versions introduced more than 40 years ago allow Hindus and Buddhists to use the word "my Dharma" and Muslims "Allah" instead of God. Non UK citizens are able to replace the phrase "duty to the Queen" with "duty to the country in which I am now living".

In March, the National Secular Society, which aims to restrict the role of religion in public life, wrote to Chief Scout Bear Grylls, complaining that atheist children were being excluded or having to lie to join the movement.

Responding to the consultation announcement, NSS president Terry Sanderson, said: "This is a move in the right direction.

"By adjusting their promise to include people without a religious belief, the Scouts will bring themselves in line with the reality of 21st century Britain."

The news of the two consultations has been welcomed by the British Humanist Association (BHA), a charity which campaigns for an end to any mandatory promise to God or another deity or religion.

Their chief executive Andrew Copson said: "With two-thirds of young people today reporting themselves as not religious and a growing proportion not believing in any god, it is important that the promise should be inclusive.

"The current situation is unfair on those who are excluded from what is often the only organisation of its kind in the area - and one which has received considerable state funding."

But the grandson of Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell told the BBC that the words of the oath provide a "sense of purpose to cling on to".

Australia-based Michael Baden-Powell, who has been involved with Scouting for more than 50 years, told Radio 4's PM programme that "belief in a higher being" remained at the "core of the movement".

He added: "We live in a society where... traditions... appear not to be as strong as they were in yesteryear. And I believe scouting fulfils a very, very valuable function in this area."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    How's about we drop all the God, Queen and Country nonsense and pledge allegiance to the common good and our fellow humans?

    I had hoped in this modern age we'd realise that no one religion, monarch, country, flag or government deserved our unwavering support. What's important is we are loyal to each other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Good idea! It will also make the children more aware of the many religious perspectives in life, which is very valuable in a multi-cultural society. However should children be pledging to their parent's chosen deity before they've reached the age to decide for themselves which religion to follow?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    When I was younger, I wanted to join the Guides. A lot of my friends were members and I wanted to join in. I attended one meeting to get a feel for it. There was the Queen's picture on the wall, prayers, flag raising and vocal promises to be loyal to Queen, God etc. Even at my young age it made me so uncomfortable I never went back. All I wanted was to go camping and make friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I went to cubs and scouts and pledge allegence to the monarch and god. It did me no harm and cannot see why it would to this generation of cubs/scouts. Its the distancing christian values that has got this country the way it is now. Its time that this country was reastablished as a christian country!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    None of the organisations such as the Scouts or Guides should have christianity at it's core in this day and age as we are now a multi faith society. I was a member of the Brownies and Guides and I could never understand why religion had to be a part of them especially when I was a regular church attender. Now I am an agnostic due in part to having religion rammed down my throat from all sides.


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