New Scouts pledge welcomes non-believers
From 1 January next year, atheists yearning to slip on a woggle and embrace the self-reliant yet altruistic philosophy of the Scouts will find the organisation well prepared.
After more than a century, members will no longer have to promise – on their honour – to do their duty to God when they make their pledge to the movement. They will, however, still be required to promise to uphold Scout values, observe its law, do their duty to the Queen and help others.
The introduction of the atheist-friendly pledge comes after the Scout Association, which has almost 537,000 members in the UK, spent 10 months pondering how best to welcome non-believers.
"Throughout its 106-year history, the movement has continued to evolve and today marks an important step in that journey," said Wayne Bulpitt, UK chief commissioner for the Scouts. "It also signifies the determination to become truly inclusive and relevant to all sections of society that it serves."
But he added: "We are a values-based movement and exploring faith and beliefs remains a key element of the Scouting programme. That will not change."
The Scout Association stressed that the core promise – "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" – remained very much intact.
The atheist promise will be available to those aged eight and over; prospective Beaver Scouts, aged six to eight, have only to promise to do their best "to be kind and helpful and to love our world".
The announcement of the new provision comes four months after the Guides broke with 102 years of tradition by dropping the promise to serve God and country from their pledge. Guides now vow to "be true to myself and develop my beliefs" and "to serve my Queen and community".
The Scout Association's move to reach out to young atheists was praised by secular groups. Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said the Scouts had recognised the contribution that "thoughtful and ethical non-religious young people and adults" could make to both the movement and society.