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Scouts reconsider pledge of duty to God

07 December 2012


Upright: the then Lieutenant-General Robert Baden Powell, in 1909 

Upright: the then Lieutenant-General Robert Baden Powell, in 1909 

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 time."

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."

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