11 year-old banned from joining the Scouts for refusing to pledge allegiance to God
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.’