We’re calling on The UK Scout Association to make the religious oath in the Scout Promise optional. In its present form, the Scout Promise requires new members to "do their duty by God", which forms a barrier to membership for non-believers. The Scout Association is not a religious charity. It has made efforts to accommodate followers of many different religions, and should now do the same to welcome people of no religion.
The Scout Association is a much admired institution, involving half a million people in the UK. It is therefore unfortunate that the religious element of the oath currently deprives many young people of honest access to scouting activities.
The recent case of George Pratt from Somerset highlights the unfairness of the Scout Association’s position. Despite attending the local Scout troop that meets opposite his home for the past ten months, 11-year old George was barred from full membership because he does not believe in God and didn’t want to make the Scout Promise in its present form. He was told that, in view of his atheism, he would not be welcome to join or even continue attending meetings.
Variations of the Scout Promise are available for different faiths (such as the use of “Allah” to replace “God” for Muslim Scouts) however all the current variations of the Promise recognise the “duty to God” element. Young people who are not religious either have to make a hypocritical and dishonest statement, or risk being refused full membership of the Scouts.
A secular oath already exists, written by Baden-Powell in the 1920s, which makes no reference to god or monarchy. The Scouts could keep within their own traditions by allowing this oath to be used as an alternative to the religious Promise.
Independent research has revealed that two thirds of young people don't regard themselves as belonging to any religion. If the Scouts really do aspire to be an organisation which is equally welcoming to everyone, they need to introduce a secular option of the Promise. This would make scouting inclusive of all young people, regardless of their religious beliefs, or indeed lack of them.
The National Secular Society and the signatories of this petition urge the Scout Association to rethink its religious policy and welcome the increasing number of young people - like George Pratt - who cannot, in good conscience, promise to “do their duty by God”.