Scouts consider oath for atheists

  • 4 December 2012
  • From the section UK
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Scouts at World Scout Jamboree in 2007
Image caption Scout membership has increased by more than 80,000 since 2005

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.

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."

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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