Think discrimination, and a beaming Brown Owl is probably about the last thing that will pop into your head. In recent years, however, the Scouts and the Guides agitated for – and received – a bespoke exemption from civil rights laws to allow them to turn people away on grounds of faith, or more specifically because of its absence. Naturally, there is nothing as crass as a Baden-Powell get-out clause on the face of the 2006 and 2010 Equality Acts, but – aside from the Masons – it is hard to think who else could be served by a carve-out for organisations which, while not strictly religious, expect members to make a pious pledge.
It is an appalling position, although happily one which the movement itself now realises must change. The Scouts recently launched a debate about their own "fundamentals" with a view to accepting atheists without requiring a hypocritical oath to the almighty. Then – in a concurrent, but apparently coincidental move – Girlguiding UK signalled a consultation on a Godless Guide promise. Characteristically, the Guides are showing a bit more nerve by also reviewing their salute to the Queen, something the Scouts want to keep.
Change will be a victory for the British Humanist Association, which has campaigned for equal scouting rights, and says that complaints from atheist parents and would-be volunteers jostles with school worship as the single biggest issue in its postbag. In the end, however, change will also be of benefit to the scouting family itself.