Scouting Group Girlguiding UK Revises ‘Promise’ So That Non-Religious Girls Can Join

Two years ago, a seven-year-old was told that she had to pledge an oath to god if she wanted to remain in Girlguiding UK (their version of the Girl Scouts).

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.’

Much like the Boy Scouts of America still do today, atheists were not allowed to become members of Girlguiding UK — at least not ones who were open and honest about their non-belief.

Unlike the BSA, though, Girlguiding UK has done something wonderful: Today, they announced a revision to the Promise that will allow openly non-religious girls to join the organization without a problem.

The oath now reads: “I promise that I will do my best: to be true to myself and develop my beliefs, to serve the Queen and my community, to help other people and to keep the (Brownie) Guide law.”

About 44,000 people responded to a consultation on changing the oath’s wording, according to Girlguiding UK. The group still believes girls need space to explore their beliefs and “moral framework”, said Chief Guide Gill Slocombe. “We knew that some people found our Promise confusing on this point and that it discouraged some girls and volunteers from joining us.

We hope that the new wording will help us reach out to girls and women who might not have considered guiding before — so that even more girls can benefit from everything guiding can offer.

“Guiding believes in having one Promise that is a clear statement of our core values for all our members to commit to. We hope that our new Promise will allow all girls — of all faiths and none — to understand and feel proud of their commitment.

It’s just that easy and the benefits are huge. (Why can’t the Boy Scouts of America do the same thing?!)

The British Humanist ASsociation, which campaigned for years (PDF) against the old version of the Promise, had a hand in the revision and welcomed the change:

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘We wholeheartedly welcome the progressive step that Girlguiding have taken today of making their movement genuinely open to all, including the large number of girls and young women who don’t believe in any god. We welcome the fact that the new Promise is about personal integrity and ongoing and active self-reflection, both of which sit well alongside a sense of responsibility to others and to the community. Unlike its predecessor, this is a Promise that is inclusive of all girls and young women whether religious or non-religious.

The new Promise will go into effect this September. And maybe [the girl] will be among the first group of Guides saying the new version of the Promise.

(Thanks to Steve for the link!)

(***Edit*** 10/6/15: I have removed explicit references to the girl in question in my own writing at the request of her parents.)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.