Seven-Year-Old May Not Get to Join Brownies Group because of God Oath

Just as the Boy Scouts of America are happy to kick you out of the organization if you’re openly atheist or gay, Girlguiding UK (their version of the Girl Scouts) is telling seven-year-old Maddie Willett that she needs to pledge an oath to God if she wants to remain in the group:

The pledge reads: ‘I promise that I will do my best, to love my God, to serve the Queen and my country, to help other people and to keep the Brownie Guide law.’

Her parents, Barry and Juliette Willett, are furious the 2nd Crawley Down Brownies troop in West Sussex has refused to alter the wording so their daughter could make the promise.

‘We don’t have a belief in God and our daughter is yet to make her decision,’ Mrs Willett said.

‘It’s a big decision for her to make and it would be offensive for an atheist to say they love God.’

Juliette said: “Maddie wants to stay in the Brownies because a lot of her friends go there, but she feels very upset that she’s being forced to say a word that she doesn’t want to.

“We will either let it go or I will take her out of Brownies, because we are going to hit this problem again when she comes to Girl Guides and when Mia joins the Brownies.” (Link)

I appreciate how they worded that — this is simply a decision Maddie has not made for herself yet and it would be foolish to pretend like she already believes in a god… or even understands what that really means.

If anyone’s wondering why there’s no mention of a lawsuit, I don’t believe there’s any basis for one. As far as I can tell, Girlguiding UK is a private organization and it’s allowed to discriminate as it pleases. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

There is a possible way around the oath… but it feels like cheating to me:

… a Girlguiding UK spokesman suggested that Maddie should have been allowed to change the wording.

He said: “Girlguiding UK does not require girls or young women to follow any particular faith, and not having a defined faith does not preclude membership.

“Our volunteer leaders work with girls and young women when they join us to explore the fuller meaning of the promise and decide if they are ready to make that promise.

“The promise has evolved to explicitly include members with different beliefs and another name can be substituted for God to make the promise more meaningful to each girl or woman.

In other words, the organization may not care about a child’s allegiance to “God” as much as an allegiance to a “higher power.” So Maddie might be able to pledge her love for the Flying Spaghetti Monster or her favorite toy… and everything would be fine.

But why should she have to do that? It’s silly and unnecessary. If she decides she’s an atheist, does the Girlguiding group really want to tell Maddie she’s unworthy of joining? Have fun with that and all the negative media attention that’s going to bring…

There’s no action to take here right now. But, for any UK citizens who donate to this organization, maybe you should reconsider your gift. Why would you want to support an organization that tells children they must pledge an oath to a higher power in order to become a member?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://profiles.google.com/noadiart Sheryl Westleigh

    She shouldn’t have to but since the wording can be changed she could substitute “the world” or “the universe” for “my God”. It implies an awe for things without a higher power. It’s a private organization so they can do what they want, at least they allow for other options which gives her and her family some options other than quitting or lying.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      LOL I’d substitute “The Doctor”…

  • Anonymous

    I’d also like to point out the political nature of the pledge “to serve the Queen” certainly asks the kid to take some type of political stance on constitutional monarchy vs republicanism (small r there, folks).

    • Anonymous

      If we are to take the pledge to “serve the queen” at face value (that is, sans equivocation) does that not imply a rather less-than-constitutional monarchy?

    • Garret

      Tell you what, why don’t we give scouts / guides the choice to not pledge allegiance to the Queen on the same day scouts in the USA get the choice that they can? Fair’s fair!

  • Adwindham

    She could rephrase as such: ‘I promise that I will do my best, to love myself, to serve
    the Queen and my country, to help other people and to keep the Brownie
    Guide law.’  No higher powers in that, just love for oneself.  Most girls could use a bit more of that. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746759036 Wrich Printz

    I always say “The Force”, which I don’t believe in…it just makes people laugh. Try it with your next Pledge of Allegiance- “One Nation, Under the Force, with Liberty and Justice for all.”

    • Paul

      Isn’t “Jedi” now a recognized religion in the UK?

      • Thorny264

        Afraid not, i think all the people who put jedi in the last 2 census’s got rejected or there religion just wasn’t counted.

        • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

          What a shame they didn’t ignore other equally silly responses, like christian.

          In all seriousness, I think if “Spiritual but not religious” was a printed option on the census we’d have a tiny christian minority in the UK, probably fewer than ticked Jedi.

    • John Santos

      You left out “indivisible”, just like NBC did.  ”Indivisible” has nothing to do with god and has always been in the pledge.  It has to do with secession and the Civil War…

  • Guest

    I feel for this family.  When my daughter was in Girl Scouts, there came a time when she was expected to get a pin for her sash that represented her religion.  Since we don’t have one, I asked her troop leader if she could just skip this step.  She suggested that I “just choose anything, then”.  I felt after her leader found out that we did not practice anything organized, my child was ostracized from a group she enjoyed being around.  Girl Scouts is a private organization, however, so I couldn’t raise too many issues.  The mission statement is based upon an expectation of religious belief.  I wish it could update its mission to include all children, no matter what their religious upbringing is.  You don’t have to be a believer to have a heart.  These organizations are good for girls.  They promote self-reliance, confidence, a sense of adventure and camaraderie and service to community.  They should be able to include all girls.   

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      You should maybe have suggested a Question Mark pin.

      • gsw

        Ok, so who is willing to create a “red ” pin? I should like one for my daughter.  

        • gsw

          Sorry a “RED A” Pin of course.

          • Anonymous

            The “RED A” pin is available at the store at RichardDawkins.net.  Lots of other atheist and Pastafarian symbols are available at evolvefish.com.

  • Rich Wilson

    Obviously I don’t know how she feels, but I’d take it as an opportunity to protest, and would probably say “The china teapot orbiting the sun between earth and mars”.  For some reason that seems better than the FSM, although they serve the same purpose.

  • Leia

    In America, the Girl Scout promise says, “On my honor, I will try: To serve God and my country,  to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout Law.”

    My eldest daughter will be joining Daisies this school year and as a freethinking child, I know she will find that silly. I am pretty sure the Girl Scouts here in America won’t bar your child for not saying the pledge, and it surprises me that in the UK it’s even an issue.

     When I signed my daughter up, they didn’t ask us for religion preference, or if my daughter was straight… I think she is still rather young to be making those decisions. Why can’t we just let children be children?

  • http://twitter.com/Grikmeer Rob Grikmeer

    Technically there are grounds for criticising and potentially a lawsuit here, at least as I understand it.

    As the Guides provide a service they are bound by law not to withhold said service from people on any religious, sexuality, gender, disability etc. grounds. There’s been a big case recently about a B&B not being allowed to turn away gay people.

    There is a stereotype about us English people as generally being less litigious…

  • Kim A.

    I was a US girl scout from kindergarten through to my Gold Award in 12th grade, and the US girl scout promise generally goes like this – “On my honor I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law”; however I have always read online that it is perfectly permissible to substitute “serve my community” for “serve God”.

    • Annie

      I was just reading this, as I’m looking up all the different pledges.  For the US pledge it does say, “Girl Scouts are given a choice of ‘whatever word your spiritual beliefs dictate’ in place of the word God.”  But doesn’t this imply that everyone HAS spiritual beliefs?  I remember a while back reading an article of a troup that was made of girls who were Muslim, so they switched “god” to “allah”.  So there is openness to diversity, but I wonder what would happen here if there was a situation similar to Maddie’s?

      • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

        Maybe you could substitute “the laws of nature and the wonders revealed by science”  for “my god”…

  • Anonymous

    Then there’s the issue of pledging allegiance to a monarch, which I think is almost as ridiculous to humanism as believing in an invisible being.

    • Mark Browne

      As a Brit, this has the same feeling to me as “pledge allegiance to the flag” might to an American.  Both are really just saying that you will stick to your country.  Neither is really relevant these days, I think, but it certainly isn’t a personal pledge to the Queen.

      • Nicole

        As an American, I don’t “pledge allegiance to the flag”. I stopped saying the pledge (or even standing for it) when I was fifteen.

        • Garret

          You are an a true individual (which is meant as a compliment). A lot of people in the US do pledge to the flag, which can seem a bit odd from over here as it is only a bit of cloth, although symbolic. Some people seem to get very upset if the flag is burnt.

          To be fair, people over here would probably get rather upset if someone did the same thing to the Queen, but then again, even if you are a hard line anti-royalist, burning an old lady would be rather rude.

          • Heidi

            When I was in high school, nobody in my homeroom said the pledge.  And that was back in the 80s. We stood for it, while one of the secretaries said it over the intercom, and some people put their hand over their heart, but not one kid said it out loud.

    • Mark Browne

      As a Brit, this has the same feeling to me as “pledge allegiance to the flag” might to an American.  Both are really just saying that you will stick to your country.  Neither is really relevant these days, I think, but it certainly isn’t a personal pledge to the Queen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashlynnoble Ashlyn Noble

    I loved being a part of Sparks, Brownies and Girl Guides when I was a kid. Here in Canada the Brownie Promise is:

    I promise to do my best,
    To be true to myself, my beliefs and Canada,
    I will take action for a better world,
    And respect the Brownie Law.

    Brownie Law: As a Brownie I am honest and kind. I help take care of the world around me.

    These are sentiments I can stand behind.

    • Ooglie53

      I too was a Sparks and Brownie in Canada. I totally agree that the oath here in the UK can be changed to something very similar to the Canadian one, this would allow everyone to join whether atheist or Muslim or Christian. 

      • Piginthemiddle

        According to the Girl Guides Association it doesn’t. If pushed they will state that an atheist cannot join since they cannot make a sincere promise to some sort of spiritual belief.

        • BrownieOwl

          I’ve been an openly atheist leader for several years, and have had absolutely no problem with either the organization, other leaders, or the parents in the unit – as long as no one tries to convert anyone else on Guiding time, I can’t see why anyone would have a problem.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    She has that “I’m going to burn down your house look”

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      I can hear the scratchy fiddle music now!

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    If anyone’s wondering why there’s no mention of a lawsuit, I don’t
    believe there’s any basis for one. As far as I can tell, Girlguiding UK
    is a private organization and it’s allowed to discriminate as it
    pleases. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)

    IANAL, but I think you are indeed wrong. There’s no question of church/state separation here (we don’t have that), so the private status of the organisation is immaterial. The Equality Act is pretty clear about banning discrimination on the grounds of religion and it doesn’t just apply to the state.

    There’s a nice readable summary of the application of the Equality Act to private organisations on the Home Office website here:
     http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/equalities/equality-act-publications/equality-act-guidance/private-clubs
    Notably, it specifically mentions Girl Guiding UK as an example of an association that is covered by the act, and  is explicit that the provisions on religion and belief extend to lack of belief.

    In short, the Brownies haven’t a leg to stand on. Chances are this is the local leader going off piste.

    • Kimpatsu

      Really? Because the last Worldwide Scouting Jamboree was held in the UK, and the BBC coverage explicitly stated that belief in god was a prerequisite for membership. I, personally, flighted with Scouting membership as a boy and ran afoul of this rule not once but twice, even going so far as to be kept back one night to be lectured by the pack master on the fact that as the oath contains a reference to god, if I don’t believe, I can’t be a member. I just Googled my old pack, and it says that they have Church Parade on Sundays.

      Personally, I think if they want to make that condition, they can, but they can’t use any public facilities or receive a penny in public money whilst they do. Once all their free meeting venues (school halls, etc.), and sports facilities are taken away, you can just bet they’ll re-evaluate.

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        Yes, really. Here are two excerpts from the guidance, but I do suggest reading the whole thing, it’s very clearly written.

        The Act defines an association as an organisation
        that:
        • has 25 or more members, and
        • has rules (not necessarily formal or written) regulating who can be a member and there is a genuine selection process for members.

        Examples of associations include private clubs such as golf and other sports clubs, ex-forces clubs, alumni clubs, social clubs, working men’s clubs, gaming clubs and drinking clubs. Some charities also meet the definition of an association, for example, the Scout Association and Girlguiding UK.

        and

        The Act protects people from discrimination on the basis of ‘protected characteristics’. The relevant characteristics for private clubs and other associations are:
        • disability
        • gender reassignment
        • pregnancy and maternity
        • race – this includes ethnic or national origins, colour and nationality

        • religion or belief – this includes lack of belief
        • sex, and
        • sexual orientation.

        (Bold emphasis is mine.)

        I don’t see much wiggle room in that.

        • Anonymous

          Thanks for the information. It really looks like it couldn’t be clearer. Not only is lack of belief explicitly mentioned as protected, but the Girlguiding UK is mentioned by name as an organization that has to follow the rule. It couldn’t be clearer if they had said “Girlguiding UK cannot discriminate against members on the basis of their lack of religious belief”.

          The national organization is not backing up the local group, which says to me that they are perfectly aware of the illegality of the action and you’re right that it was likely some busybody local leader mucking things up.

  • Anonymous

    CampFire USA would GLADLY have her!

    http://www.campfireusa.org/

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      Do they have a big presence in West Sussex?

  • Austin

    I’d be in the same boat if I came out in the US boy scouts, although from what I read they’re much more harsh.

  • http://www.facebook.com/GammaGrace Lindsay Kreis

    As a former Girl Scout(from ages 5-11), I can  honestly say that I remember nothing about God. They didn’t teach it, the only religious thing we did was Christmas caroling. I really don’t think learning about God or being around religion at a young age is damaging. Sure I made a pledge to God and my country, but like most pledges, I changed my mind afterwords. All in all, Girl Scouts was fun, I made some friends, sold some cookies and felt like a dork. It was awesome :D

    • Heidi

      You didn’t even wrap yarn around Popsicle sticks and call it a “God’s Eye?”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    and another name can be substituted for God to make the promise more meaningful to each girl or woman.‘I promise that I will do my best, to love my bowel movements, to serve
    the Queen and my country, to help other people and to keep the Brownie
    Guide law.

  • Tortuga Skeptic

    So, as a US citizen, while I appreciate what the Girl Scouts do, I’m more a fan of 4H and can see how something like the CampFire group would be cool.  For me I really like having boys and girls together.

  • The_Dol

    I’m a Unitarian Universalist and an atheist, and I’m starting a Navigators USA chapter with another mom from my congregation. Stories like this are exactly why I don’t want my daughter doing Girl Scouts. I know they tend to be less rigid than Boy Scouts (who have been co-opted by the Mormons), but I want her to belong to an organization that *openly* admits atheists, as well as LGBT folks, into their fold.

  • http://webgeekhq.net Craig

    Get her a hamster, name it God. 

    • Sailor

      Good one!

  • lagagnon

    As someone who lived in the UK for 4 years, made numerous other trips there and who is married to a lovely English girl I feel I can put my two pence in here. This pledge is simply an anachronism, left over from Baden Powell’s own Anglicanism. The Church of England is intimately tied to the British Monarchy and the British are slow to change anything. Their Anglicanism is worn very lightly and most are even embarrassed to discuss anything concerning religion or God. It means very little to anyone in the Girl Guide movement in the UK, as does their state religion in general.

    • AM

      I grew up in the UK, and I agree with you. I couldn’t tell you if anyone of my family believes in God or not and not one of them ever spoke to me about religion, other than recently my father told me he thinks only evolution makes sense and the idea of heaven is utterly ridiculous. For 4 generations no one ever attended church, but we were christened, expressions like “God bless” were used, we went to Sunday school (free babysitting my mum called it). The local vicar knew my entire family by first name, had conversations with them in the high street and never once questioned why they didn’t come to church. IT’S JUST NOT DONE in England. There’s less meaning and more traditionalism involved.  It’s very hard to explain to Americans the role that religion takes in Britain. I’ve got atheist friends, and myself also, that love to wander around churches, and others who have their kids enrolled in the boy scouts. The word God in the sentence is as you say an anachronism.

      I’ve gone between agnosticism and atheism all my life. I have no interest in going to church over here, tried it a couple of times and nearly lost my patience, but if I could attend services every Sunday in Westminster Abbey, I wouldn’t think twice about it. Churches and religious beliefs over here irritate the hell out of me because people are far too in your face about it, rather than keeping it to themselves. Christianity in America seeks to divide more Americans than unite.

  • Denis Robert

    The Boy/Girl Scouts are an explicitly religious organization. This should not come as a surprise to anyone.

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      In Ireland they were (when I was a kid) explicitly religious being called the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland – luckily not any more!

      But when the name is just Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts how are you supposed to realise it is all about Jesus? You might expect it’d be all good secular fun like camping and canoeing.

      I picked up a Boys’ Brigade manual left in a community hall a while ago and I was *stunned* by how heavy handed it was in its preaching!

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      In Ireland they were (when I was a kid) explicitly religious being called the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland – luckily not any more!

      But when the name is just Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts how are you supposed to realise it is all about Jesus? You might expect it’d be all good secular fun like camping and canoeing.

      I picked up a Boys’ Brigade manual left in a community hall a while ago and I was *stunned* by how heavy handed it was in its preaching!

    • http://www.facebook.com/ryurack Rebel Yurack

      Actually, the Girl Scouts have never been a religious organization. I can’t speak for the Boy Scouts as I have had very little interaction with any members. If you want some enlightening information about GS, you should try their Wikipedia page.

  • Ella

    I’d say this is more a local group issue, than a Girl Guide issue.  Almost 20 years ago, I was allowed to change my pledge to : I promise that I will try to do my best, to love and serve my country, to help other people and to keep the Girl Guide Law.
    No God or service to the Queen required.  It’s the volunteer leaders who really control how each group is run, there’s no set curriculum or anything.  My group went from concentrating on learning first aid and camping skills with our first leader to cooking and sewing skills with our second (which is when I left :) )

  • Guest

    I don’t think religion is much of an issue in Guiding and Scouting in the UK. I would tend to believe, until we get a proper statement from that Brownie group, that this might have been an honest mistake on the part of the Leaders. Leadership of Brownie groups are voluntary and a lot of the Leaders are just average parents who don’t know much about all the precise ins and outs of Girl Guiding rules. More than likely this situation has just never come up before and the Leaders were under the impression they couldn’t change the wording of the pledge.

    I was in Girl Guides from I was about 5 until 15 and then returned afterwards as a leader in Rainbows; during this time I became an open atheist and didn’t hide it. Similarly I have a friend who is a Scout leader, just back from the World Jamboree, who is also an open atheist and has been his entire life. Religion was never really talked about, even around Christmas it wasn’t anything more than you’d get taught at schools. It just wasn’t seen as appropriate to be discussing religion in this setting; Guiding isn’t a Church youth group and mostly you’re too busy trying to get the kids to follow the schedule for that evening than trying to teach them anything about God.

    Mostly any adherence to religious wording or ceremonies (such as on Thinking Day), is as another commentor has said, purely traditional and if you don’t want to attend no one will force you, nor is a big deal made of it and if anyone was to try and discriminate against you because of it they’d be the ones asked to leave.

  • Erp

    We have four groups being discussed here.  “GirlGuiding UK”, “Girl Scouts of the United States of America” (GSUSA), “Boy Scouts of America” (BSA), and “Scout Association”.   Each has a promise/oath (the BSA tends to use the word ‘oath’, the others tend to use ‘promise’) which are similar in structure and each has a specific attitude towards the promise.   

    The BSA allows no modification in their oath (the one exception might be translations to something like American Sign Language).  Scouting UK allows substitution for ‘God’ from a set list (‘my dharma’, ‘Allah’, though it leaves open the Association approving another choice); non UK subjects may also substitute for Duty to the Queen.  The GSUSA allows substitution for ‘God’ and leaves it up to the individual (troop leaders may have other ideas): “When making the Girl Scout Promise, individuals may substitute wording appropriate to their own spiritual beliefs for the word ‘God’”.  GirlGuiding UK seems to follow the GSUSA policy but slightly more restrictive: “Where, in a religion, God has a name which is more commonly used, that name may be substituted in order to make the Promise more meaningful to each girl or woman.  In these cases it is recommended that the Leader discusses the wording of the Promise with the girl and an adult with parental responsibility for her.”  (2009 Guiding Manual). 

    Personally I think substituting something like “love what is right|good”  is appropriate, followed by discussions on how to figure out what is right|good between the girl and her parents.

    BTW there is absolutely no GSUSA requirement that Girl Scouts earn a religious emblem nor does earning one fulfill any requirement that I’m aware of.   The BSA doesn’t have such a requirement either; however, earning a religious emblem is one way to fulfill certain BSA requirements for advancement.

  • Charles Black

    Any organisation that coerces children into following any religion when they don’t know any better can shove it as far as I’m concerned.
    This is blackmail & I hope they get sued for it.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Nothing changes then, 44 years ago when I was nine years old I was politely asked to leave the cub scouts in Croydon, England for refusing to take part in end of meeting prayers.

  • Sue

    I’ve recently been consulting the Girlguiding UK manual as I’m considering rejoining the organisation.  According to their equality and diversity policy, the only grounds on which the organisation can discriminate are age (there are age limits for each part of the organisation) and gender.

    I’ve written to Girlguiding UK to suggest that they need to communicate this better to their members and make it clearer in their manual that non-religious members can substitute the word ‘god’ with something meaningful for them.  The individual units shouldn’t be excluding atheists but apparently some of them don’t know that yet.  I’ll report back if I get a reply.

    Scouting UK is a different organisation with different rules.  My friend found out that lying about his atheism was a requirement if he wanted to be a Scout leader.  Based on what he said, there may be quite a few Scout units dependent on their leaders’ willingness to lie for the sake of the children.

  • gsw

    “Girlguiding UK (their version of the Girl Scouts)”

    Nice touch, but I thought the American Scouting Organisation also recognised Baden-Powell (An Englishman) as their founder? Must be wrong.

    As an atheist since I was old enough to resent going to Sunday school, I nevertheless was a guide (and a white owl) for some years. We had church parade first Sunday of every month, and pledged our allegiance to God, Queen and Country.

    Since there is no god, any allegiance sworn was of course as valid as my allegiance to the easter bunny. However, nobody seem to care. We used to mutter gods (if any), Queen and Country. 
    OK, as an adult, it sounds stupid – but really, I did not know anyone in our troupe that actually believed in a god, and 1/2 of the girls were not even talking about the same country I was.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ryurack Rebel Yurack

      I don’t know who this Baden Powell is (I’ll Google it after I’m done here), but Juliette Gordon Low was the founder of the Girl Scouts in 1912 in Savannah, GA. It’s basically the first think I learned as a Brownie.

      As for the “God” business… when I was in scouts I just said it because it was what I was supposed to do, though I do remember being a little uncomfortable about it. The US “promise” is basically the same as the above mentioned one, with the words in different places. And, thankfully, the Girl Scout “law” has no mention of a god whatsoever. I don’t know what the UK equivalent of the “law” is though.

      I’ve never seen any discrimination against non/religion in the Girl Scouts, though I do think that leaders will try to incorporate their beliefs into their activities, as most leaders of any organization do. I feel that’s more of the individuals’ issue and not so much a Girl Scouts/Guides one, but I do believe that parents should bring the issues to the chain of command, and that said command should be telling the leaders that such indoctrination is unacceptable. 

      • Ian

        From Wikipedia: “In 1911 Juliette met Second Boer War hero (and founder of the Scouting movement) Robert Baden-Powell. The B-P recruited her to the Girl Guiding movement. He had gotten his sister Agnes
        to organize the Girl Guides by recruiting the thousands of girls who
        had sprung up in scout troops across England. Daisy and Sir Robert
        (later Lord) Baden Powell shared a passion for sculpture, poetry and
        art. She also enjoyed working with iron. She had hired the Wellesbourne
        village blacksmith to teach her iron and copper smithing so she could
        create iron gates for her home, Wellesbourne House.

        While in the UK, Daisy organized a troop in Scotland and two in
        London before she decided that she would start the movement on her next
        visit home to Savannah.”
         

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    Whenever they say “you can replace this word with another word,” they’re showing how irrelevant that first word really is. So why is it in the oath?

    See? We ARE in a civil rights movement. This one is small. Others are much more impressive cases.

  • Jenny

    I specifically remember this when I was a girl scouts here in the state and just like the pledge at school I never said the god part.  I didn’t tell my parents I did that till I was much older, but I was doing it on my own since I can remember (second grade maybe?).  The only time I said “under god” was when I had to lead it in front of the class (obviously traumatizing because I remember it!). I’m glad these people and others are speaking out against this, finally! 

  • http://www.chucksteel.com/ csteelatgburg

    I would suggest the following as a good substitue pledge:
    I promise that I will do my best, to love reason, to serve the Queen and my country, to help other people and to keep the Brownie Guide law.

  • Ben

    Have to do this for the Air Cadet pledge, well mention God. UK this is. I was very reluctant…

  • Lara

    Religion and spirituality are important parts of the scouting, so why would an atheist even join? As an atheist I would not even consider to allow my children to take part in such activities. I wouldn´t allow them to go in Sunday school either.

    • MariaO

      But you think it is OK to let your child join something that started as an organisation of child soldiers during the Boer war? Because that is what the scouts are. Onward Xian (children) soldiers… 

      • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

        Err, no. Look it up

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      Since when are religion and spirituality an important part of scouting? I was a Junior Girl Scout when I was 10 (my troop was chartered through a public school) and no one ever mentioned religion or talked about a god.

  • http://www.emilvikstrom.se/ Emil Vikström

    The scouts of Sweden have changed their scout promise to just this:

    “I promise by the best of my abilities to follow the scout law”.

    We have also recently changed the part of the scout law which mentioned God. It has this agnostic wording now:

    “A scout seeks his own belief and respects others’.”

    I think this is a huge step forward for the scout movement, and I hope that other countries will follow. This may pose some problems, however, since the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) requires all member organizations to mention the “Duty to God” in their scout laws and promises (see for example: http://scout.org/en/about_scouting/promise_and_law ).

    The 22nd World Scout Jamboree was recently held here in Sweden, which is interesting considering the agnostic stand we take regards religion. We do have a a few large Christian scout organizations but we do have atheistic ones as well.

    I do not think that belief in a god is very important for the scout movement. We can create a better world without religion.

  • Anonymous

    The point that Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and what look like Girlguiding UK is that personal humility is achieved through belief in a higher power.  The idea that there is something bigger than you and that is some kind of Supreme Being.  I think this is utter bunk as it falsely implies that you have to have religion to be altruistic.

  • http://10thdanielboone.org David M Atchley

    This is one of the many issues in Scouting. The US has it’s fair share of hot topics when it comes to the Boy Scouts of America regarding the 3 ‘G’s – God, Girls and Gays. This is one of many stories that show this is happening elsewhere as well; and it is something that needs to be addressed.

    A few comments have mentioned programs like the Navigators USA and Campfire USA; but I’d like to mention another alternative scouting movement here in the US as well, which is the Baden-Powell Service Association (http://bpsa-us.org).  BPSA is not just a US scouting association, but part of a wider “traditional” scouting movement which holds to the aims, methods and program originally set forth by Robert Baden-Powell. BPSA US is open to everyone one, boys and girls, regardless of any background, beliefs, color or creed.

    I mention this association for two reasons: 1) I happen to be the current Commissioner, and 2) its aim and program are ones that I fully support given my own past issues with the BSA. Growing up I was a scout with the BSA. I said the Promise, much as everyone else did, but just because it didn’t really occur to me at that young age to worry about particular words in a promise – I wanted to camp and have fun. I earned my Eagle, worked for a time as a Unit Commissioner for other Troops, worked on staff at a number of summer camps through my early 20′s because I felt scouting had given me so much I wanted to give back.

    I’m an atheist as well. When I had my first son, I joined a local Cub Scout Pack and became a den leader. As I became active again with the scouts I had come to understand the BSA’s changes over the years; their stance as a private religious organization, the “religious declaration” that all leaders have to agree with, the spiritual requirements in each of the various sections ranks, their stance on allowing homosexuals into scouting, either as scouts or as leaders and the extent of the watering down of the scouting program as originally laid out by B.-P.

    I had a talk with my Pack’s committee about drafting and adopting our own non-discrimination statement and met with some resistance. I then called the local Council to talk to someone their about my issues with National Policy and was told that if my Pack adopted a non-discrimination policy our Charter would be revoked. I talked at length with the PR director for the Council about various policies and whether there was any possible work around; and in the end I was told that I wasn’t the type of person that the Boy Scouts was looking for as a leader and that maybe I should join some other organization.

    I did just that. I found the BPSA here and began working with an organization that would make scouting, which I do feel is a worthwhile program, open to everyone.  I also sent a letter to BSA National stating my disappointment with their policies and reluctance to change; and packaged it along with my Eagle badge and a request to be removed from the register as an Eagle scout.

    The BPSA program uses the same material and programs that B.P. prescribed; but of course with updates to include advances in first aid/medicine, safety and of course, a completely open and inclusive policy.  

    I believe scouting, as an outdoor program for teaching citizenship, self-reliance and useful skills is one worth keeping in tact; and that no child (or adult) should be restricted from participating in the program that B.P. put forth.  I encourage the other alternative scouting organizations and associations to continue their push and their programs and at the same time invite those who are interested to take a look at the Baden Powell Service Association here in the US as well.

    I’d be more than happy to talk about my experiences with the BSA, discrimination and my change over to BPSA if anyone is interested. 

    And, to keep in line with the post and story, we do keep the original wording of the promise, but allow the scout to substitute any other word or phrase, such as “my conscience” for the word “God.”  Yes, groups can surly come up with a new promise with much different wording; but traditional scouting keeps as much as possible; and from a leader’s standpoint, it gives me the opportunity to discuss this exact same issue with my own scouts. And when I have a number of scouts saying the promise together, and you hear 3 or 4 variations along with the word “God”, it sparks a discussion among the scouts and provides an opportunity for them to understand what inclusiveness, diversity and tolerance are really about.

    I wish the best for Maddie; and I think her parents are approaching the issue in a reasonable fashion.  Kids shouldn’t be forced to make a decision like that, as all kids continue to learn and grow and understand the world around them – and that takes time and patience. Scouting should focus on the program, not the adherence to strict religious dogma, or lack there of (that’s a personal decision for the scout and their parents).

  • Pat S

    Nothing new there, I was refused entry to the Girl Guides over 40 years ago because I would not make a religious promise. If you push the Girl Guides Association they will eventually admit that they bar atheists and that one must have some kind of spiritual belief to join.

  • Jesse Davis

    The biggest issue facing Scouting here in the USA is the inexorable Mormon take0ver of the movement.  Irecall hearing that as many as 40% of Boy Scout troops in the US are LDS troops now; their main purpose is to indoctrinate boys into the LDS church.

    The concern for Girl Scouts is the fact that the Mormons do not allow scouting for girls within their ranks.  I fear the day when the LDS gains control of Scouting as a whole and tries to do away with the GSA.

    My own experiences in Pennsylvania offer an example of what I hope is still the norm in many parts of the country.  My whole family was active in Scouting for many years.  I was a Cub Scout at 7, my mother was my Den Mother.  My father became an Assistant Scoutmaster once I officially became a Boy Scout at age 11.  I was active in the troop until after my first semester of college.  My mother was the leader of my sisters’ Girl Scout troop, and they were active through high school as well.

    In all that time, I never once got the impression that either organization was particularly religious in nature.  Sure, some kids got their “God and Country” merit badge or church service awards, but we were never pressured to do so.  Religion just wasn’t an issue for us as a troop, or a council for that matter. The only time I was really exposed to religious activity was on the last Sunday of summer camp, when the entire camp hiked to the top of Chapel Hill for a brief service.  Even thought the service itself meant nothing to me, the view was very pleasant, and the atmosphere was actually almost pagan in nature.

    Granted, that was in the 80s, so things may have changed in that area… but I sure hope not.

  • Rich Wilson

    I have very little experience directly with any of these organizations, but have learned from parenting blogs that at least with Scouts, each troupe has a great deal of latitude, so, “YMMV”.

    It will be unfortunate if our local troupe gets pushy about the God bit.  They make cool soda bottle rocket launchers and trebuchets.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    what threat level would this be? Level 2 is about reminding the offender about what the law says. Since this isn’t illegal though, it doesn’t seem to meet the requirements.
    Level 1 is for issues too small to make a fuss about. This issue is certainly big enough to argue against though.

  • Barch

    A Scout is (ir)reveren? It is as though you would want atheists to be priests or Catholics to be rabbis and so on. The only (Ir) here is irrational.

  • Autumn

    I’m a troop leader of both my daughters’ troops; Daisies and Brownies.  I only felt comfortable joining the organization after reading that our girls will have the choice to substitute whatever they wanted for “god” in the Promise.  However, I also didn’t leave it up to chance and some other parents’ idea of choice, which is why I volunteered to lead the groups.  Being in TX I assume most would easily overlook the option for substitution.  (and actually my co-leader is one of those)  I am not sure about the Girl Guide options, or even if there ARE options to substitute their own beliefs into the promise, but if I heard something like this here, I’d assume it was poor leadership from the troop mom.  I really hope the Guides will step in and prevent the exclusion of this little girl. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KSCKYCRPJW7NK6LZIM2K5K47Z4 William Y

    I think that any mention of a religious entity in an oath should be voluntary not mandatory.

  • http://www.facebook.com/EvolveFISH Evolve Fish

    This a great idea. We’ve wanted to offer a “Question Mark” symbols for a long time.  I’m going to try to have one on our web site in 4 weeks. Probably be as a vinyl cutout first. Pins later. EvolveFISH.com

  • Erp

    The Girl Guides’ web site has a discussion on this issue by various guides and guiders.   A lot of back and forth but it seems that there is a bit more leeway than the local group appears to have given and that some of the guides/guiders feel there should be more leeway from the national organization (quite a few on the board admit they are non-theistic and accept that a large percentage of older guides/guiders are atheists or agnostics).  Also there is no requirement that a girl make the promise to remain in Brownies or to advance to Guides except at some of the highest levels.  It was also pointed out that the Canadian Guides recently changed their promise to

    I promise to do my best,
    To be true to myself, my beliefs and Canada.
    I will take action for a better world
    And respect the Guiding Law

    (the Guiding law make no mention of God [or 'reverent' which has never been part of Girl Scout/Guide law though is in the Boy Scouts of America law])

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      Do you happen to have an account over there? I’d be curious to know what they’d make of the Home Office guidance on the Equality Act – it’s recent(ish) legislation, so they may not have quite caught up with the fact that the law has changed.

      • Erp

         No account on the board (I’m in the US and though I was a Girl Scout for 11 years, I’m not currently a Scouter), I just find it interesting reading.  Doing a google search on the board for other entries didn’t turn up anything in regards to the act (I assume you mean the 2010 one).   The official site has
        http://guidingmanual.guk.org.uk/default.aspx?page=19
        but doesn’t address the promise.

        Going by what is on the board, the parents may not have standing yet as she is not required to say the promise to be a Brownie (when she wants to get the BP Award at about age 13, it would be a different matter or if either of her parents wanted to be official leaders [leaders have to make a promise]).  They also feel the local group may not have been aware that the promise can be modified to a degree (though not to a degree that all atheists would be happy with) and/or is not mandatory.  It is telling that one quote from a 20 year leader is

        GGUK would certainly have a problem if all the atheist members refused
        to make the promise – especially as I expect the majority are adults and
        senior section (who have had the chance to develop their own views on
        the subject). Perhaps all the atheist Guiders should re-enact the
        Crystal Palace rally and storm CHQ demanding “something for the
        atheists”!

        (the last statement is a reference to how girls officially got into scouting in the first place [it was originally all boys], some showed up anyway at a UK wide rally at the Crystal Palace and told Baden-Powell, the founder, that they were girl Scouts  [he didn't want to mingle the sexes so set up Guiding for them instead though his good friend Juliette Low eventually called her program in the US, Girl Scouts {much to the annoyance of the Boy Scouts of America who tried to force them to change the name}])

        Plenty on the board seem willing to go Canada’s route; plenty admit to being atheistic (though some don’t see why atheists would want to join or should join).   Given the equality act and given internal group pressure, I suspect change may be coming [probably before Maddie reaches 13].   Note that in Britain one can be a Guide (Senior Section) through age 25 (in the US it is through 18) which can mean a lot of vocal young women. 

        The article also has the terminology wrong, it is a promise not a pledge (Hemant added ‘oath’ which is not the correct name except in the Boy Scouts of America and groups in other nations derived from them) and Brownies don’t belong to a ‘troop’ but to a ‘pack’.    One wonders what else was gotten wrong (for instance the parent’s complaint might have been somewhat different than what was reported).

  • Fredericka

    Why don’t atheists form their own organizations, instead of parasitizing other people’s organizations? Not even you folks enjoy your own company?

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      Why don’t you go troll somewhere else?

      • Fredericka

        Hi wmdkitty. Why don’t you answer the question? If atheists formed organizations, who on earth would want to join? Not even their own children, as I can testify from personal experience. May I suggest a more realistic advertising slogan to replace the deceptive ‘You can be good without God:’ ‘Atheism! A great way for young people to meet some really creepy adults!’

        • Heidi

          I’ll answer it. I sure as hell would have signed my kids up for it if there had been a non-theistic alternative.

          May I suggest you Google scouting and sexual abuse? And I’m sure you don’t even need to Google Christianity and sexual abuse by priests, pastors, ministers, etc.  — physical abuse, as well, for that matter. You probably even have, or know someone who has had “personal experience” with it, as so very many people do.

          Troll failure. Get used to it, Frederika.

          • Fredericka

            Heidi wrote, ” I sure as hell would have signed my kids up for it if there had been a non-theistic alternative.”

            OK Heidi, if you don’t mind your kids clinging to your skirt, crying and begging, saying ‘Please don’t make us go to the atheist camp!’ We used to beg our mother to send us to the Presbyterian camp instead, because the kids there were nice and did not steal our food.

    • Erp

      There are plenty of atheists in Guides so it is not some other people’s organization.   These atheists believe they can and should work so that they are a sister to every other guide even though those other guides are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu[1], Buddhist[2] nay even Christian.   Organizations change over time, at one time many US scouting groups were strictly segregated (or troops for minorities didn’t officially exist in many areas).   At one time many Buddhists had problems with the promise as it was then required in the UK.

      I must admit I don’t understand why you are trying to be so annoying.  Do you not approve of an atheist being on Patheos? 

      [1]  The second largest Guide organization is in India and the majority of
      those are probably Hindu, and the ambassador [which seems to be a term
      the Guides use for prominent local willing to be a patron and adviser]
      for the county Guiding group to which this pack belongs  is Hindu. 

      [2] Buddhists also often have problems with the promise and the primarily Buddhist scouting/guiding organizations have never used ‘God’ but instead a word translated as ‘religion’ in their promises (I’m not exactly sure what the connotation in the original language is since ‘religion’ in English is a notoriously fuzzy word).  The UK Guides/Scouts both allow ‘Dharma’ to be substituted.

      • Fredericka

        Hi Erp, the people who are the victims here are the children they are trying to raise as atheists. There is a little voice here not being spoken for; these parents are probably very well aware of it, but don’t care to listen.

    • Erp

      There are plenty of atheists in Guides so it is not some other people’s organization.   These atheists believe they can and should work so that they are a sister to every other guide even though those other guides are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu[1], Buddhist[2] nay even Christian.   Organizations change over time, at one time many US scouting groups were strictly segregated (or troops for minorities didn’t officially exist in many areas).   At one time many Buddhists had problems with the promise as it was then required in the UK.

      I must admit I don’t understand why you are trying to be so annoying.  Do you not approve of an atheist being on Patheos? 

      [1]  The second largest Guide organization is in India and the majority of
      those are probably Hindu, and the ambassador [which seems to be a term
      the Guides use for prominent local willing to be a patron and adviser]
      for the county Guiding group to which this pack belongs  is Hindu. 

      [2] Buddhists also often have problems with the promise and the primarily Buddhist scouting/guiding organizations have never used ‘God’ but instead a word translated as ‘religion’ in their promises (I’m not exactly sure what the connotation in the original language is since ‘religion’ in English is a notoriously fuzzy word).  The UK Guides/Scouts both allow ‘Dharma’ to be substituted.

  • Ian Hitterdal

    She should make an oath to Farnsworth’s god: the all-powerful Atheismo.

  • Guest

    This is something that I have a massive problem with. I am supposed to be training to be a Brownie Leader but will never be able to qualify because of this issue. I can fudge the lines during meetings as nobody is listening to me but out on my own…… I also know that a great number of the girls take issue with it and several leave because of it. I like the Canadian promise and wish that in the UK they would change it similarly.

  • Alison

    If they don’t like it leave. Why should tradition be changed cause some parents are idiots. They can start their group & make the rules as they wish

  • Lin Snow

    I was a child member of Girl Guides and a group leader as an adult. We had a number of atheist kids in our group, as well as the leader (me). There simply isn’t much religious discussion between 9-12 year old girls, and the only time it would come up is when some girls would choose to pray before meals or bedtime at camp. The promise (as others have already posted it) is very inclusive. There is a closing song Guide’s Taps that mentions god, but we decided as a group to edit our song for a god-free version. Some girls wanted to say god, and they had that right. There were really no problems!

    It’s also worth noting that while Girl Guides and Boy Scouts have similar origin stories, the girls’ organization is completely inclusive… unless you’re male. ;)

    And yes, some specific groups may be more religious, but they are not allowed to kick anyone out for things like belief or sexual orientation.

    As for the little girl in the main story, I think that her parents have it under control. She’s allowed to make a different promise if she wants to. And a promise a kid makes isn’t really a big deal. Do you think the police are going to knock down her door if she doesn’t do her best?! I’d say just change the words to whatever she wants, and if the troop leader won’t allow it, then she doesn’t deserve to have an hour a week with the kid anyway.

  • stocco

    Everyone appears to have forgotten that we live in a Christian country (the UK) ran by Christians, you can’t be PM unless you are a member of the CofE.

    Also since the queen is head of the English church by pledging allegiance to her you pledge allegiance to her church.

    I don’t see why everyone hates Christianity so much, as far as I am concerned it teaches children morality and gives them a sense of belonging.

    • Garret

      Just to keep you up to date, having to be be C of E to hold high office, PM included, was abolished in the 1820s by the Duke of Wellington, PM at the time.

  • CJ

    ““Girl Scouts of the USA makes no attempt to define or interpret the word  God in the Girl Scout Promise. It looks to individual members to establish for themselves 
    the nature of their spiritual beliefs. When making the Girl Scout Promise, individuals may make wording appropriate to their own spiritual beliefs for the word God.”  
    From Girl Scouts of the USA’s Blue Book of Basic Documents, p. 22″

    Girl Scouts and Girl Guides internationally derive their rules from GSUSA.  Historically scouting is a Christian organization but there is no religious requirement and there is no religious culture in the day to day of the organization. It’s in the promise but it’s not in the law or any of the handbooks. And yea, changing the wording includes leaving it out.

    This is a case of one troop going off on their own and doing their own thing. They shouldn’t but sometimes it happens. Hopefully this girl can find a better troop that will accept her and all that she has to offer to the scouting organization. And hopefully the local council will exact some disciplinary action on the troop leader.

    • Erp

      The GSUSA is prominent in WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) and the largest single organization (India is second), but, it is claiming too much to state that “Girl Scouts and Girl Guides internationally derive their rules from GSUSA” much less that USA specific rules apply to a UK Brownie pack.    Also the UK has no councils but instead regions and as a subdivision, counties.

  • Arnold

    To love “what’s good” or even “the greater good” should work fine.

  • Javed Vardi

     What a dish, browni is awesome.My brother
    loves it very much. in other words he is mad for it.i will surely prepare i
    for him.

  • Javed Vardi

    This is a
    another way on how to prepare your browni , another way to present
    your browni to your Family and friends, and how yummy it is,
    especially the peppermint.

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith

    I would never have my child in any organization with a religious requirement.  Even if they allowed a change in the pledge. does anyone seriously believe they will not continue to pressure the child into “finding god”?  They are such hypocrites, all they really do is serve as a bad example of what religion is about, when it claims to be much different.

  • Fred

    I’ve had a similar problem here in the U.S.  I’m an atheist but i’m only “out” to some people, not including my Girl Scout leader.  I’ve been very active in Girl Scouts my whole life (im in high school now) and I would hate to have something like this force me to leave after all the other important things that I have learned in scouting.  In the U.S., the promise is “On my honor, I will try, to serve god, and my country, to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout Law”.  Normally I just stay silent during the “to serve god” part. I feel comfortable doing that but my problem is with my Daisy troop.  When i’m teaching the promise, I don’t feel comfortable saying that part and forcing the girls to say it, but i also don’t feel like it is my place to be talking to the girls about religion. does anyone have any suggestions? I was also wondering if you had any suggestions for me about talking to my leader. she often makes us sing grace and i dont feel comfortable doing that. i was thinking of suggesting some non-denominational graces.  should I just keep my mouth shut on that issue and just not sing or should i talk to her? thanks!

  • Carol Fowler46

    I really dont think it’s maddie who has the problem but her parents I’ve been a brownie leader for over thirty years and never had this problem every girl has ben happy to take her promise. what happens when it’s christmas will she refused to go to the carol service or not do any christmas activities, or easter or special church services, why are the parents making a mountain out of a mole hill and making her life a misery

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506280545 Tricia Sprankle

    Join 4-H.  ”I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

  • fluffykitten

    As a leader of a rainbow,brownie, guide and senior section units i am appalled at the atitude of the leaders at this unit. yes our promise says my god however this could mean that you class your mum as your god. The promise is their to show that our members have a commitment to the unit and want to help as much as they can. I believe this little girl should if she has to amend the promise for all units. i myself said my promise as a child and know at both times referring to my god who is mother nature as i am a pagan. we do not force any beliefs on a child. i just hope this issue can be sort and she can go back to being with her friends and enjoying herself at the unit.

  • Frances Dowle

    The promise has now been changed- a lot of Girlguiding UK members felt it need to change- it now says “to be true to myself and develop my beliefs”


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