What a difference an ocean makes

The Christian Institute reports that, unlike their counterparts “across the pond,” British Boy Scouts may soon end discrimination against atheist members.

The Scout Association is considering adopting a new “atheist” promise for the first time in its 105-year history.

Currently, in order to join the Scouts youngsters must pledge: “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.”

And the [Girl] Guides are also thinking of rewriting their promise to love God and serve the Queen.

Don’t expect the American Scouts to follow suit any time soon.

The Christian Institute, needless to say, is discreetly aghast at the prospect of atheists being openly admitted to the Scouts.

The consultation on an “atheist” promise comes in stark contrast to the views of the movement’s founder, Lord Baden-Powell.

He ranked atheism alongside gambling, swearing and drunkenness in a handbook for boys…

“If you are really to make your way to success – ie happiness – you must not only avoid being sucked in by irreligious humbugs, but you must have a religious basis to your life”.

Of course, Baden-Powell also thought Scouting should be boys-only, and yet they did away with that constraint. What on earth is British Scouting coming to?


  1. Arkady says

    Good news, although most scouting groups in the UK already ignore the ‘no atheists’ thing anyway. My flatmate is a volunteer deputy leader, and says that it already doesn’t apply to the Scouts themselves, and in theory only applies to the leaders. Still not generally applied in the case of the leaders though, my (atheist) flatmate said when he put through his deputy-leader application they just deliberately left out any questions on religion.

    UK Scouting also has no restriction whatsoever on gay membership, so they’re already ahead of the Boy Scouts of America in that regard…

  2. says

    That’s certainly good news …..

    Hopefully, the bit about the Queen will be the next to be removed. Republicans* should not be excluded for their views, either.

    Oh, and Baden-Powell was a dick.

    * This means something rather different on this side of the Pond.

  3. says

    Baden-Powell was a supporter of fascism and a fan of both Hitler and Mussolini. A 1989 biology of him by Tim Jeal noted that Baden-Powel wrote in his diary in 1939: “Read Mein Kampf. A wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation etc.” He was a racist and frequently expressed support for the idea of white superiority in his writings.

    He definitely should not be held up as a role model.

  4. timberwoof says

    Holding true to BP’s writings despite any changes in society is stupid for a couple of reasons. First, it’s just another fundamentalist ideology. Second, BP founded the Scouts because increasing industrialization was isolating boys from connection with “nature” that their ancestors just a few generations previously took for granted. So this fundamentalism prevents the Scouts from adjusting their program to realities a hundred years later.

    Since BP praised Hitler and the Hitler Youth in the late ’30s, I wonder what he made of the German boy scouts burning down their camps in 1933 rather than let the Hitler Youth take them over.

  5. says

    They removed their objection to homosexuality some years ago and pretty candidly state (the albeit blindingly obvious) something along the lines that being gay doesn’t mean you are a paedophile.
    I believe this is now their last remaining point of discrimination so I say good on them for taking this step. It seems over your side of the water these points of bigotry could be around a fair while yet.

  6. Stuartg says

    The New Zealand Scout Promise is “…to do my duty to my God, to the Queen and my country, …”

    There’s still a lot of Xtian overtones, though.

  7. Kate S says

    I was a female queer atheist member of Scouts Canada for several years. About a third of my group was queer and probably half were atheist/agnostic. All was considered completely acceptable by everyone I personally encountered, although I recently found out that a friend from the other side of the country’s group leader didn’t believe girls should be permitted to join.
    I did have to say that thing about God and the Queen though. Didn’t care at the time but probably wouldn’t do it now.

  8. says

    I honestly don’t see what the big deal is, for a number of reasons.

    First, the boy scouts are a private organization. If they choose to include a religious message in their program, while you or I may think it’s stupid – it’s their choice. They’re free to make that mistake.

    Second, frankly who really cares? It’s no secret that they have some pretty serious religious overtones. If that’s not what you’re about – why would you want to be a part of that organization anyways? That’s like complaining that the local church talks about god too much. Well, no shit.

    Last, My experience having spent many years in the boy scouts is that while there are some obvious religious elements – it’s not really forced on you. I claimed nature as my religion and that was perfectly acceptable. Nobody even batted an eye at it over the years. There are parts of the BSA program which you cannot complete – some of the service awards and whatnot – without religious affiliation, but it’s not really as required as some seem to make it out to be.

    That said – if you join the boyscouts and spent your time on an anti-religion crusade, and ranting and raving about how their is no god, you’re going to rub some people the wrong way. Probably even get kicked out. I will say that for the most part, my experience has been, religion is only an issue if you choose to make it one. Will you be exposed to religion? Yes. But I think everybody knows that going into it. I chalk it up to a simple case of “buyer beware”. If being exposed to religion is going to offend you, perhaps BSA isn’t a group you should be a part of in the first place.

      • says

        Not exactly. The city bus is public. BSA is not.
        Complaining about the boyscouts having religious overtones is more like complaining that 1st class gets free drinks.

        I mean, do you send your kids to a church run summer camp? How’s about church run day care when you have to work? So why sign them up to a loosely religious organization – and then complain about the religious aspect? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    • says

      Just because they are a private organisation, does not mean they are above the laws of the land.
      Try opening a members-only marijuana smoking club, or a society open only to Europeans.
      Also, the Scouts and Guides are very well-known organisations; and often, especially in rural areas, there is no serious secular competitor. This puts them in a position of (near) monopoly, and the rules are (quite rightly) different for monopolies.
      Is having to lie about yourself in order to be accepted by others a big deal? Yes, it is. There are whole groups of people who have spent much of their lives lying about themselves, lying to themselves even; and as a member of one of those groups, I can tell you, it wears you down.

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