Girl Guides in Australia drop their promise to serve God and the Queen
After an 18 month consultation, Australia’s Girl Guides have decided to drop their promise to do their duty to God and the Queen. The part of the membership oath in which Girl Guides promise to ‘do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and my country’, will be replaced by a promise to ‘to be true to myself and develop my beliefs’. There has been much discussion in the Australian media about the removal of the Queen from the oath, which has provoked fierce debate between Republicans and Monarchists. However, the removal of the religious aspect of the oath deserves particular attention. The pledge to do one’s duty to God, which is still a membership requirement for Scouts and Girl Guides in the UK, is discriminatory, because it effectively bars atheists from membership. The British Humanist Association (BHA) welcomes the decision by Girl Guides Australia, and calls on the Scouts and Girl Guides in the UK to drop the requirement to swear loyalty to God in their membership oaths.
In 2001, Australia’s Scouts made the pledge to the Queen optional, but decided to keep the pledge to serve God. In the UK, the Scouts and the Girl Guides still retain the part of their membership oaths which involve swearing loyalty to God, and this applies both to children who wish to join and to adults who wish to work or volunteer with them. This is discriminatory, as it excludes atheists, and no other group in society is excluded from membership on the grounds of belief. It is inappropriate given the beliefs of modern-day teenagers – according to a survey carried out by the Department for Education in 2004, two thirds of teenagers 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.
In France, the Netherlands, Canada and the Czech Republic, the Scouts 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 also been allowed to substitute another word or phrase for ‘God’ in their membership oath. However, the BHA believes that the religious aspect of the oath ought to be removed completely, as having the option of a religious pledge puts pressure on those who choose not to say it, and can have the effect of singling them out from their peers.
Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs, commented that ‘swearing a religious oath should not be a membership requirement for an organisation which claims to be inclusive, and which receives a large amount of public funding. In the UK, atheists who wish to join the Scouts or Girl Guides are not allowed to omit the part of the membership oath which involves swearing loyalty to God, unless they are buddhists, which leaves them the choice of either making a dishonest statement or being refused membership. To be truly inclusive and non-discriminatory, the Scouts and Girl Guides should drop this part of their membership oaths.’
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 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.
The BHA’s campaign on Scouts and Guides:
The Telegraph’s news article:
The article from ABC News:
The survey by the Department for Education, on the Attitudes and Experiences of 12 to 19 year olds: