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

Two years ago, seven-year-old Maddie Willett 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 Maddie will be among the first group of Guides saying the new version of the Promise.

(Thanks to Steve for the link!)

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.

  • C Peterson

    Maybe it’s just that I’m not getting the whole story, but my impression is that this matter was resolved with so much less drama than the BSA embarrassment in the U.S. (which remains unresolved, of course).

  • wellingtonsteve

    I was discussing this with my girlfriend this evening. I am an atheist, but she is a Christian and helps run a Brownie group. While I, like many here, object to the old promise I found it difficult to justify forcing the new version on people who don’t like it when trying to see it from her point of view.
    I’m curious how people would feel about giving each child the choice of “to love my God” or ” be true to myself ” or whatever.. the emphasis being on helping them understand that people have different views etc.

  • C Peterson

    Any organization with a pledge is going to “force” it on its members, I think. I’m not sure a pledge is necessary at all, but if you’re going to have one, I don’t think alternate versions are a good route.

    The thing that strikes me is that the old version was exclusive: it demanded specific religious views. The new one is inclusive: it is every bit as friendly and supportive of members who are religious as the old one (maybe more so, since it isn’t limited to the Abrahamic god), while being equally open to those with no religious beliefs at all. I find it hard to see any difficulty with that. What kind of person who agreed with the sentiment of the older version could possibly have an objection to the new one?

  • Emily Fleming

    The new promise as far as I’m aware has girls promising to “develop my beliefs” – that works fine and includes beliefs in deities (even plural ones, which the previous wording didn’t!) if girls want it to, which is great, I think. Here in Canada Guides pledge to “be true to my beliefs”, which I also like.

    I should mention that the previous version of the Canadian promise (I’m very proud that my Guides have updated their traditions to better reflect their purpose, and do so as needed) offered girls a choice between “being true to my god” and “being true to my faith”, which was a good intermediate step as well. Choice is good.

  • Anna

    Good news! The “love my God” thing is so heavily weighted towards Christianity. Other religions may have deities, but loving those deities is not necessarily part of the religion.

  • Mario Strada

    This is just too fucking reasonable. Where is the anger? Where are the protests and the churches refusing to sponsor the girl scouts? What about the preachers and the right wing media foaming at the mouth, accusing atheist of making baby jesus cry?

    I am afraid I have gotten used to all that and this news is a bit boring now…

    Which is very good.

  • Andrew Hall

    Atheists organizations should do what the lgbt community did with the Boy Scouts and target their corporate sponsors. The BSA may actually be more open to including us since many of their hard core bigots (Southern Baptists and others) are leaving the Scouts due to the new Boy Scout policy on homosexuality.

  • Tel

    Yes, and it really was this easy, and I don’t know of people being up in arms about it. I was a Girl Guide for several years, and religion never came up — maybe half of us (though not me at that time) didn’t believe in God, and it wasn’t an issue even though the leaders were associated with churches.

  • Tim

    I’d rather not not serve the Queen, but at least she exists.

  • Dave
  • Tel

    Oh, I see.

    Thanks for linking those — I needed a good laugh!

  • Goatless

    Funny thing is, that sounds eerily similar to what I promised when I became a Ranger, when I renewed my promise every time since then and when I became an adult leader. Nobody has ever had a problem with it.
    All the same, I couldn’t be prouder of my Guiding association.
    I’ve always been a little bit worried about having to lie to a child about my own beliefs for fear of influencing them too much.