An 11 year-old boy has been banned from joining his local Scout group because he does not believe in God. George Pratt, from Midsomer Norton in Somerset, refuses to make the Scout Promise, in which new members are required to swear allegiance to God and the Queen, because of his atheist beliefs. As a result, he cannot be invested as a full member of the Scout group which meets opposite his home. The British Humanist Association (BHA) supports George’s decision, and would like both the Scouts and the Girl Guides to omit this prohibitive portion of the membership oath.
George had been attending meetings at his local Scout group for ten months before being asked if he wanted to be invested in the group. However, after discussing the Scout Law and Promise, he realised that to become full members of the organisation, Scouts must take the following oath: ‘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.’ George decided he could not do this, and is disappointed that his atheist beliefs prevent him from becoming a full member.
The religious part of the Scout Promise is inappropriate given the beliefs of modern-day teenagers – according to research carried out by the Department for Education in 2004, two thirds of 12-19 year olds in Britain are non-religious. This discrimination by the Scouts and Guides is one of the most common reasons why people contact the BHA for advice. In 2006, the BHA worked with its supporters in Parliament to try to amend the Equality Bill so that secular charities are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion or belief. However, this amendment was not passed.
Several branches of the Scout and Guide movements in other parts of the world have already dropped the religious part of their membership oaths. In July, Australia’s Girl Guides decided to replace the part of the oath in which Guides promised to ‘do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and my country’, with a promise to ‘to be true to myself and develop my beliefs’. In France, the Netherlands, Canada, and the Czech Republic, the Scouts also have alternative pledges that are acceptable to the non-religious. Since 1993, the Girl Scouts of the USA (but not the Boy Scouts of America) have been allowed to substitute another word or phrase for ‘God’ in their membership oath.
Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs, commented, ‘We support George in his decision to stand up for his beliefs. The Scout and Girl Guide movements claim to be inclusive and open to all, but requiring members to swear allegiance to God either excludes the non-religious, or forces them to make a dishonest statement. It is unacceptable that organisations which receive large amounts of public funding should be allowed to discriminate in this way. The non-religious are the only group in society who are excluded from Scout and Girl Guide membership on the grounds of belief. To be truly inclusive, the Scouts and Girl Guides should drop the religious part of their membership oaths.’
For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0773 843 5059.
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.
Also, please write to the Scout or Guide Association 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.
Previous BHA news article about Australia’s Girl Guides dropping their promise to serve God and the Queen: https://humanism.org.uk/news/view/1066
The BHA’s campaign on Scouts and Guides: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/equalities/scouts-and-guides
Media coverage of George Pratt being excluded from the Scouts because of his atheist beliefs:
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.