ATHEISTS could soon be welcomed into Girlguiding UK and the
Scout Association for the first time since they were founded more
than a century ago.
The two groups, which have traditionally pledged their duty to
God as part of their formal promise, are launching a consultation
among members to see whether an alternative can be found to allow
non-believers to join.
In October, 11-year-old George Pratt, from Midsomer Norton, in
Somerset, was barred from full membership of the Scouts because he
did not want to make the promise in its present form (
News, 26 October).
The movements, which were originally founded with a strong
Christian ethic, have already made accommodations for other faiths,
including Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, but until now have
resisted acknowledging atheists.
The Scout Association's chief commissioner in the UK, Wayne
Bulpitt, said: "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."
The chief executive of Girlguiding UK, Julie Bentley, said:
"It's something our board has been planning to do for some
Lord Baden-Powell launched the movements in the 20th-century. In
the past decade they have enjoyed rising popularity. Membership of
the Scouts has risen from 444,936 in 2005 to 525,364 this year, and
the number of Guides has increased by 69 per cent since 2002. More
than 50 Scout groups for young Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs have
opened in the past ten years.
The president of the National Secular Society, Terry Sanderson,
said that the consultation was 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, where more than two-thirds of young people
say they have no religious belief."
The chief executive of the British Humanist Association, Andrew
Copson, said: "It is divisive, unfair, and deeply sad that they
continue to exclude young people of good conscience who do not
believe in any god, and are not willing to lie by saying words they
don't believe. It is vital that these changes are realised."