Guides and Scouts: beyond belief


Despite their fusty pledges, both organisations realise they must adapt by reviewing their positions on religion and atheism

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.

Written By: The Guardian
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  1. This is excellent news. The social and intellectual progress of people in the West is happening at a tremendous pace while so many societies lag behind and yet take pride in arrested emotional development. The daily news from Pakistan, Philippines, India (the world’s largest democracy), in fact from most countries around the planet reflect that the bulk of our species exists in misery and oppression. There is obviously a correlation between poverty and illiteracy and religiosity.

    Congratulations to the British Humanist Association for an intelligent campaign to ensure equality and dignity for all citizens. We need that kind of action everywhere in order to establish peace and security for everyone.

  2. Scouts is a great way for people to learn to work together and can be great for some. It unfortunately is let down by it’s hierarchacle nature. Not sure on whether or not heirarchacle is actually a word?

    Teaching subservience can never be a good breading ground for any human.

    Drop god and queen and adopt leadership based on achievement! My own thoughts, having been a cub and a scout and having experienced nepotism and bullying within both.

  3. Hi mrtbarr,

    ‘hierarchical’ I think is the word (or at least the spelling of the word) you were looking for. Though my dyslexia often has me staring at correct spellings for ages, convinced totally that the spell-check must have erred.

    There are alternatives to the Guides & Scouts. My own kids (UK) had great times with the Woodcraft Folk, or Woodies as they are known.

    They are partly responsible for my children’s awareness of, and respect for, the world around them – its environment and all the creatures within it.

    I thought they were great people and I’m always surprised they never get a mention whenever these issues arise.

    And not one mention of god’s or queens, either.


  4. … and yeah, bluebird, an unfortunate photo choice.

    I instantly started humming ‘Tomorrow belongs to Me’

    Still, I’m sure her parents will have had it framed and hung, regardless of its Aryan tinge.

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