January 31st, 2008
If you must discriminate against the non-religious, be honest about it!
Following a meeting at the Scout Association, the British Humanist Association and National Secular Society have written a joint letter to Derek Twine, the Association’s chief executive, demanding that if they are unwilling to change their policy of excluding people with non-religious beliefs from Scouting, they should at least be honest about it on their website and in their publications and communications.
The meeting was arranged to discuss a joint submission from the BHA and NSS to the Scout Association which called on the Association to open its doors to the growing number of young people with non-religious beliefs (some 65% of 12-19 year olds) who are currently excluded by the requirement to make the Scout promise to God, and to adults who are currently prevented from obtaining a warranted appointment.
“We were disappointed by the Scout Association’s response to our arguments”, said BHA chief executive, Hanne Stinson. “It was quite clear that there was no prospect of any change on the mandatory religious promise soon or in the foreseeable future, and they did not seem in the least concerned about the impact of their discriminatory policy on young people, or on society.”
“The way they described the Scout Association was as a religious organisation (Mike Goodison, the Chair of Association, said that one of its purposes was for Scouts to grow in a ‘full expression of their faith’), but if that is the case, it is quite unacceptable for the Scouts to present themselves as ‘inclusive’ and ‘open to all’ as they do on their website and in other material. At local level, the Scouts obtain considerable amounts of statutory funding, and last year the Scout Association received a grant of £1.5 million from the Government for its international jamboree, on the basis of their inclusivity. And that is quite simply dishonest.”
The joint letter to the Scout Association concluded: “We invite you in the interests of transparency, and indeed of honesty, to make unambiguously clear in your communications that the organisation is a religious one and to proscribe the Association and local groups from claiming to be open to all, inclusive, or committed to equal opportunities. We ask you to include an accurate description of the Association on websites and in promotional materials and, even more importantly, in communications with potential donors and public bodies making grants or making facilities available free or at a subsidy.”
The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief.
For further comment or information, please contact Hanne Stinson on 020 7079 3583
The BHA is regularly contacted by young people who have been told that they cannot join the scouts, or that they can join if they are prepared to say the promise to God, even if they do not believe in one. Some of these live in areas where there are no other youth organisations they could join. We also hear from adults who have been turned down for leadership roles, and some who have been unable to renew their warrants after years of service.
You can read the joint letter to the Scout Association here [Campaigns Equalities Scouts Letter Scout Association PDF]
And the joint submission from the BHA and NSS is here [Campaigns Equalities Scouts Scouting good citizenship paper PDF]
The Scout Association website describes scouting as, for example, ‘open to all’ and ‘ inclusive’
Ed Miliband, announcing the £1.5 million grant to the Scout Association said that it would bring together “thousands of young people …with all sorts of backgrounds and cultures” and was clearly unaware, until the BHA wrote to him, that young people with non-religious beliefs were excluded.
The Guide Association has similar policies. The BHA’s correspondence with them ended in August 2007 when Denise King, the Association’s chief executive, wrote that she was ‘bringing this correspondence to an end …there is little useful for either of us to add to what has already been said’.
A DfES survey ‘ Young People in Britain: The Attitudes and Experiences of 12-19 Year Olds’ found that 65% of 12-19 year olds do not believe in God.