Scouts and Guides
Although they describe themselves as inclusive organisations, and receive large amounts of public funds, the Scout Association and Girlguiding UK both have membership criteria which specifically excludes atheists from admission into their organisations, whether as children wishing to be members or as adults wishing to work or volunteer with them. No other group is excluded from the Scouts and Guides on religion or belief grounds and the British Humanist Association believes this to be unfair and discriminatory.
Humanists and other atheists are not permitted to omit the portion of the membership oath where the scout or guide swears loyalty to god, meaning either making a hypocritical and dishonest statement or being refused full membership. While there are other secular organisations that do not discriminate, in many areas the Scouts and Guides are the only youth groups available.
This discrimination by the Scouts and Guides is one of the most common reasons why people contact us for advice, and have approached the Scout and Guide Associations many times over the years to protest at these unfair and discriminatory policies, with no success so far.
What are we doing?
These groups have always historically excluded the non-religious, and today are allowed to do this because they were granted an exemption from equalities legislation, first granted in the Equality Act 2006 and then again in the Equality Act 2010, allowing them to continue to require their members make a religious promise when joining. During the passage of the two Bills through Parliament, the BHA led the campaign to introduce amendments which removed the exemptions, working with the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group of over 100 MPs and peers and most recently triggering debate at the 2010 Act’s House of Commons Committee Stage.
On 4 December, the Scout Association and Girlguiding UK both announced that they are consulting on changing their membership pledges to be inclusive to the non-religious. We welcomed the announcements and encouraged people to respond to the consultations. We are now waiting for the outcomes of the consultations to be announced.
What can you do?
If you have experienced or are currently experiencing difficulties participating in either the Scouts or the Guide Association because of your humanist or non-religious beliefs, whether you are an adult applying to volunteer or a child wishing to join, please get in touch and tell us about your situation. Being able to give evidence of current discrimination helps support our arguments and shows the real life effects of these unfair admission policies.
Please write to the Scout or Guide Associations letting them know that their admission policies are outdated, unfair and discriminatory. Remind them that an “inclusive” organisation which is “open to all” should not discriminate against humanists and the non-religious.
You can support the BHA by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to the BHA.