UK-Based Scout Association Offers Half-Hearted Alternative ‘Promise’ for Atheists

Back in June, we learned that the UK-based Scout Association would finally allow atheists to become members for the first time in over a century, perhaps due to pressure from their counterparts at Girlguiding UK, who had just changed the wording of their “Promise” to make it more secular and inclusive.

The Scout Association didn’t want to go that far. They said their Scout Promise wouldn’t change. It would still officially say “To do my duty to God and to the Queen,” but atheists would be given an acceptable alternative.

Yesterday, the SA announced that alternative Promise for the first time:

The new pledge, which is to be an alternative — not a replacement — to the old Promise will state: “On my honour I promise that I will do my best to uphold our scout values,” instead of “On my honour, I promise that I will do my best, to do my duty to God.”

The National Secular Society also reports that the SA will revise its Equal Opportunities Policy to allow atheists to become Scout leaders — a position they were also banned from until now.

I guess this is where we’re supposed to celebrate?

While I welcome the new changes, this is pretty much the least the SA could have done. They couldn’t legitimately claim to be tolerant and inclusive while at the same time barring non-religious boys from joining, so they caved in under pressure. It’s about damn time, but it shouldn’t have been this difficult.

Their official statement just shows how unenthusiastic they are about this decision:

The core Scout Promise, which refers to a ‘Duty to God’, remains intact and Scouting remains fully committed as a Movement that explores faith and religion as a core element of its programme.

I don’t think they understand the meaning of “explores.” Hell, atheists love to “explore” religion, too, but the official Scout Promise will still pay homage to God. No questioning or “exploring” in there.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, put the change in perfect context:

This is a massive step forward and we welcome it. It means that the Scout movement is at last open to everyone, and young people who don’t have a religious belief can join in good conscience.

At the same time, we think the Girl Guides’ response to this issue was infinitely superior. Their approach relieves young people of having to make a decision about what they believe at a time in their lives when maybe they haven’t decided.

There’s no reason the SA couldn’t have officially changed their Promise just as Girlguiding UK did. The girls didn’t suffer. No one was left out. The values of the organization remained intact. And the press was overwhelmingly positive.

If you’re going to go through with a change, why half-ass it? The current Promise already allowed substitutions for Muslims and Hindus, so it wasn’t written in stone to begin with, but you mean to tell me they’d rather have a religious pledge that everyone can change instead of one pledge that is just inclusive of everybody?

Half-hearted golf claps for the Scout Association leaders… I guess.

The alternative wording will go into effect on January 1.

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.


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