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 86.

    As an atheist I see no reason why I should be expected to make a promise to a non existant god. I don't understand how the Scouts have got away with this for so long bearing in mind the fuss made when a Christian is allegedly discriminated against for wearingthe effegy of a Roman instrument of torture round their neck

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    As I understand it, Dharma, although associated with Buddhism is rather a personal thing (hence "my Dharma") and as such open to personal interpretation. An atheist could for instance recognise his/her Dharma as an obligation to society and to himself.

    Can't atheist kids just choose this version?

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    My kids (aged 6, 8 and 10) all sussed out that the Jesus/God thing was a fairy story quite some time back, without any input from myself. They would laugh at the thought of taking an oath to nonsense. I totally let them make up their own minds on that one. I'd be unhappy with them giving an oath to the Queen, what with her being such a scrounger and social parasite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Another tradition destroyed because of PC nonsense, taking an oath is part of becoming a Scout, joining the Military,Police etc. I loved being a scout and the promise is the first thing you do on joining.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Don't scouts want to go camping, do charity work, wear a uniform and have fun making camp fires like a "Bushtucker Man" ?

    If they wanted hymns rather than a pie fight at scout camp should they not actually be at church ?

    Any religion that is totally compatible with school science lessons is perfectly OK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Interesting. I was a cub scout, never gave oath a second thought. Never believed in need for royal family but saying the oath I guess never meant anything to me as a 9 year old. As much sense as dib dib dib I guess. If you look at other countries then loyalty to Country, God and other scouts seem common, mentioning the head of state seems very British.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    The Scout Association welcomes all young people. Baden Powell was a product of his times but even he realized for scouting to work it must be inclusive and he wrote the 'Outlander's Promise'. This variation of the scout promise has been available for those who were unable to make a promise to the Monarch or to a God.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Like the Church, the Scouts and other bodies now seem to want to conform to perceptions of what is a modern society. But in the process they forget the original reason for their existence, which is to set examples and standards and lead, not follow, trends. If they're leaving that behind, the Scouts become just another youngsters' activity club. Which is OK, but there's a gap, something is lost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    How about, if your not part of the association, and don't know what your talking about, you stop making comments about something you have no understanding of? That way those of us who are can make our own minds up? Thank you

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Everyone from the army to MPs take an oath allegaince to the queen, which I've always totally baffling considering our parliamentary system is a result of centuries of wrestling power from the crown.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    This is a piece of good news that does nobody any harm. People who think of the Scouts as an old-fashioned organisation don't understand how radical Baden-Powell was. A multi-faith organisation in his time was a far more radical step than a "faith or no-faith" organisation now. As an atheist for whom Scouting formed a lot of my character, I'm delighted at the possibility of being involved again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    My daughter has recently taken her Brownie promise because she wanted to be part of the organisation along with her friends. They make quite a big thing of the promise and how great is is to do it and become a full member. She's 7 and doesn't believe in god, I questioned her about the promise and she said she just wanted to be a member.

    I don't see why they need a pledge/promise of any kind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    About time. There is no supernatural god (deliberate lower case).

  • Comment number 73.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    The further minors are kept away from religion, the better. I speak as somebody whos younger brother (now schizophrenic) was sexually abused at a religious school. Evil people easily operate under the religious smoke screen. A secular environment would appear to be safer for kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    It's about time atheists were accommodated. Instead of pledging duty to a country though, why not pledge duty to the people of Earth?

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    And I say let there be streak knives for vegetarians, wedding dresses for singles, tanning studios for vampires and the death penalty for nice old, law abiding ladies. There is no excuse for discrimination!

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Makes no difference, no one actually believes in the god mumbo jumbo anyway so may as well stick with the proper traditional words.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.


    Makes me laugh when people presume we still say dyb dyb dyb (even better when they spell it 'dib' through lack of knowledge). That went out years ago, so although to some your comments may be valid, to moan about something that you seem to know little about upsets those who diligently offer their time for free for the enjoyment of young people.

    Scouts is great. 28 million can't be wrong!

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    And a contract by a minor for non-necessaries isn't legally binding anyway, so their "oath" is actually not only meaningless but empty of content. The oath doesn't bind the minor in any way.


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