Scouts and Guides to consult on extending membership to non-religious

By staff writers
4 Dec 2012

The Scout Association has announced that it is to consult on extending membership to non-religious people, atheists and agnostics.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the news, and also the further development that Girlguiding UK is also announcing that it is to consult on the text of its Promise.

As with the Scouts, the BHA has long called for an end to any mandatory promise to God or another deity or religion – including in July, after the Australian Girl Guides similarly amended their pledge.

Many other countries, such as France, the Netherlands, Canada and the Czech Republic, already have alternative pledges that are inclusive of all. In addition, the Girl Scouts of the USA have been allowed to substitute another word or phrase for ‘God’ in their membership oath since 1993.

Like the UK Scouting consultation, the Girlguiding UK consultation will be open to everyone – regardless of whether or not they are a member of the organisation. It will run from 4 January to 3 March.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: "We welcome the news that Girlguiding UK are consulting on their promise. 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 of all girls. 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."

The Scout Association is "launching a consultation to find out if its members would support the development of an alternative version of the Scout Promise for potential members who feel unable to make the existing Promise," it says.

The issue was discussed on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme this morning, when a spokesperson for the Scouts denied accusations that they were "ditching God", and emphasised that it was a question of consulting about broadening membership.

The consultation is being launched because "For over 40 years, alternative versions of the words 'Duty to God' have existed for faith groups such as Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists but this is the first time the Movement has consulted on a Promise for potential members who are atheists," the Association said.

In 2006, both the Scouts and Guides were granted an exemption from the Equality Act in the UK in order to allow them to continue to require their members to make the promise and to exclude non-religious young people not believing in a god.

The BHA led the campaign to try to remove this exemption, working with the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. The National Secular Society has also been lobbying on the issue.

Since then, requests for help and advice from parents encountering this problem with the Scouts and Guides have remained one of the largest single categories of correspondence received by the BHA each year, the organisation says.

[Ekk/3]

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