Scouts consider oath for atheists

Scouts at World Scout Jamboree in 2007 Scout membership has increased by more than 80,000 since 2005

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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.

Current alternative wordings

  • Hindus can say "My Dharma" instead of "God"
  • Muslims can say "Allah" and the phrase "In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent"
  • Buddhists can say "My Dharma"
  • Non UK citizens can replace the phrase "duty to The Queen" with "duty to the country in which I am now living"

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."

Start Quote

It is important that the promise should be inclusive. ”

End Quote Andrew Copson British Humanist Association

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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  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    On the radio this morning, I heard a reporter ask why, at the same time as including atheists in the vow, a promise of allegiance to the Queen was being retained.

    Well, at least we have evidence that SHE exists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    People can be loving,respectful and fair without organized religion. The only "religion" that truly matters is LIFE itself. Good luck to the Scouts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I would rather these young people be given an opportunity to form their own opinions on religion when they are old enough to consider all the issues rather than being labelled "athiest children" by their parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.


    Scouts has always been open to atheists.They just have to lie.

    People shouldn't be put in a position where they have to do that though,should they.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    It's the wrong way round as the default should obviously be non-religious, but it is a step which many of these backward thinking organisations need to take. In fact why is religion involved at all? Any mention of the G word would have put me off in any case. It would be better to stop kids from repeating things other people say instead of encouraging it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    @13 Captain.Jack

    I completely agree - Scouting has made a lot of effort to distance itself from Christian morals, with the result that far fewer children are being abused under the cover of religious practice and observance.

    If distancing Scouting from Christianity allows one fewer child to be abused in any way, it is most assuredly a good idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    105 years ago, Britain was a more Christian nation than it is now!..Do you think the country has improved by turning away from those principles??..Don't think so!!..

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    14.Peter Boyle
    Probably when the Guides allow male members, It will only succeed if the people who volunteer support the idea as the organisation is run by volunteers who have passed the necessary checks. The real question is will those who don't support change be forced to leave closing the organisation down for political correctness?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    #13 The reason my ancestors came to Britain (400 years ago) from France was that one sort of Christians decided ours was 'the wrong sort' and tried wiping us all out. (Google the St Bartholomew's Day massacre)

    You believe in God. I don't. Would you rather I lie and make a promise to a God I don't believe in? I doubt HE would appreciate it in the unlikely event he does exist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Scouts has always been open to atheists. They just have to lie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.


    In a free country you can't go forcing religion down people's throats.Atheists have as much right to be here as you have and this move by the scouts sounds like a sensible one to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I think that the Souts still have to make an oath to god and the queen.

    Why not eliminate both of these mediaeval concepts from scouting forthwith - two birds with one stone and all that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    This question is an old one, and most organizations have moved well beyond it in favor of secular oaths. More to the point, will the Scouts allow gay members as almost every other secular organization does? It seems that the Scouts are about 30 years behind in most everything, so why do they get public support?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I went to cubs and scouts and pledge allegence to the monarch and god. It did me no harm and cannot see why it would to this generation of cubs/scouts. Its the distancing christian values that has got this country the way it is now. Its time that this country was reastablished as a christian country!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    A simple change from "to God and to the Queen" to "to humanity and my country" should be enough, especially if equally valid variants are allowed for different religions and, where necessary, monarchists/republicans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    You shouldnt need to pledge a duty to any god or any monarch. You should just be true to yourself and to the group that you wish to join.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    None of the organisations such as the Scouts or Guides should have christianity at it's core in this day and age as we are now a multi faith society. I was a member of the Brownies and Guides and I could never understand why religion had to be a part of them especially when I was a regular church attender. Now I am an agnostic due in part to having religion rammed down my throat from all sides.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    No need to bring any god/deity/fairy into it at all: just ditch the outmoded beliefs. After all, they don't warn scouts not to venture over the edge of the world when they do Orienteering, do they? Or to beware of dragons?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I was on Jury service a few months ago and you can "Affirm" instead of saying making a religious statement that you will try the defendant fairly etc ( which is what I chose to do ).

    So why can't the Scouts and Guilds do the same ? They could "affirm" in the same sort of way, that would seem fair to all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I was thrown out of the scouts for not attending church to worship some imaginary being. Good to see the scouting movement dragging itself into the 1980s.


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