The religious think-tank Ekklesia has expressed regret that the Scout Association, one of Britain's leading youth organisations, is refusing to open its doors to young people with principled non-religious beliefs (some 65% of 12-19 year olds, according to recent surveys), and to non-religious adults who are currently prevented from obtaining a warranted appointment.
The Scouts, who say they are an open and inclusive youth organisation and receive public funding, require that their promise is made to God, and prohibit a general affirmation of the kind that both believers and non-believers use in courts and elsewhere. This means that the non-religious either have to make a promise they do not believe or are refused admission.
Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, expressed sadness at the apparent intransigence of the Scouts on this issue, following repeated requests by secular groups, and said he hoped that those of deep religious conviction would also object to the effective exclusion of principled non-religious young people from a major, highly-regarded body.
"Making profession of religious belief mandatory for participation in a supposedly open public body which receives statutory funding is surely unjust, objectionable and unacceptable in a plural society," he said. "It also violates of the freedom of belief which many Christians and others hold to be key to the integrity of faith as something that can never be imposed, because it is a matter of grace and gift."
He added: "I hope people of faith will join with non-religious people in courteously but persistently pointing out to the Scout Association, and to the statutory bodies that give them public money, how wrong and unacceptable their stance is - a clear and regrettable abrogation of 'Scout's honour'."
"The exclusion of the non-religious is also classic example of the 'Christendom mentality' that faith should be made normative in civic life, irrespective of the beliefs and convictions of others," commented Barrow.
"Such an approach is deeply counter-productive. It brings genuine, free religious conviction into disrepute, associating it with compulsion and privilege, rather than love, truthfulness and peaceableness."