Scouts’ pledge to drop any mention of God in promise with new members able to declare themselves as atheists
00:07 GMT, 4 December 2012
09:22 GMT, 4 December 2012
The Scouts are to drop their historic rule that teenage recruits must declare religious belief, the movement’s leaders said yesterday.
In future boys and girls who join the organisation will be allowed to declare themselves as atheists and make a pledge of honourable behaviour that makes no mention of God.
The retreat from religion marks a break with a tradition begun in 1908 when the movement’s founder Robert Baden-Powell wrote a Scout Promise which required a vow to ‘do my duty to God’.
In 1908 founder Robert Baden-Powell, left, wrote a Scout Promise, which runs in full: ‘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’
The promise survives to this day with the language virtually unaltered, except for alternative versions available for young people of other faiths than Christianity, including Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. All members have to make a religious promise of some kind.
Scout leaders said yesterday that the change was being made in the cause of helping the organisation ‘increase its diversity and benefit more communities than ever before.’
The movement has been under pressure from secular campaigners to drop the religious pledge.
The National Secular Society is running a petition against religion in the Scouts following a case in the autumn when an 11-year-old from Somerset, George Pratt, was refused membership in his local troop after he said he was an atheist and declined to make the promise.
The Duchess of Cambridge accepts flowers from a local Scout as she leaves Sandringham Church last Christmas. A Scout spokesman said yesterday that the movement in Britain will not remove its demand that members do their duty to the Queen
The Scouts said yesterday that they will
run a consultation to ask ‘whether an alternative version of the Scout
Promise should be developed for atheists, or those who feel unable to
make the existing commitment.’
The organisation added that ‘the
consultation is about finding a way to allow young people and adults who
have not previously been able to join the movement to be part of the
Chief Commissioner 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.’ No form of wording of a Scout Promise for atheists has been finalised.
The Scout Promise runs in full: ‘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’.
Scouts also retain their original motto, ‘Be Prepared’.
Versions of the promise for the use of boys of other religions were first produced by Baden-Powell in the 1920s. But such arrangements remained informal until the 1970s, when promises were altered to suit other faiths than Christianity.
The failure to admit professed atheists has not prevented the fast expansion of the Scouts in recent years.
The movement says it has grown its British membership from below 450,000 to move than 525,000 over the past 12 years, an increase of nearly 17 per cent.
It claims to be attracting more girl recruits than the female-only Guides, who have also suggested that they will also review their religious requirements. Guides are asked to pledge ‘to love my God’.
A Scout spokesman said yesterday that the movement in Britain will not remove its demand that members do their duty to the Queen. Earlier this year the Duchess of Cambridge became a volunteer helper with a troop in North Wales.
Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society said: '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'
Non-British scouts in this country are allowed a special pledge in which they promise to do their duty to the country they are living in.
Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society 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, where more than two thirds of young people say they have no religious belief.
‘If the Scouts decide to change the promise, it would relieve many young people of having to lie about what they believe in order to be part of this great organisation.’