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UK Scouts to Welcome Atheists with New Pledge

UK Scouts to Welcome Atheists with New Pledge

For the first time in 106 years, atheists will be able to become a Scout without having to pledge to a God they don’t believe in.

A 10-month consultation between the Scout movement and religious leaders led to the decision that a new version of the Scouts’ promise will be introduced for atheists, effective from January 1 next year.

All Scouts and their leaders have to make The Scout Promise, and while different versions can be used by other religions for the past 50 years, an atheist-friendly pledge hasn’t existed until now. Christians pledge duty to God, Muslims swear only to Allah, Buddhists and Hindus swear to their “Dharma”, and now atheists promise to uphold their Scout duties. With the modern world we live in today, it seemed a natural step for the Scout movement to take.

Beavers, Cubs and Explorers are all part of the Scout movement too and will also introduce the alternative promise. All members of any of these groups can carry on using the original Scout promise if they want to, or even use one of the other religious vows. In the process of trying to be wholly inclusive, the ban which stopped atheists becoming Scout leaders has now been lifted.

In June, the Guides announced that all references of God were being removed from their pledge in the hope to encourage more girls from all walks of life to join. The girls now promise to be true themselves, develop their beliefs, serve the Queen and serve their communities. Chief Guide Gill Slocombe said, “We hope 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.”

When the Scout movement announced their proposed plans to religious communities, they were understandably relieved the Scouts were keeping their core pledge, but happily welcoming the chance to get communities together a bit more.

Reverend Lorna Hood from the Church of Scotland said that providing an alternative pledge for atheists is a “very sensible and inclusive step while ensuring that faith and belief remain a vital element of their ethos.”

Wayne Bulpitt is the UK Chief Commissioner for the Scout movement and feels that adapting for other beliefs shows how determined the Scouts are to make everyone feel included and be more a part of society as a whole.

“We are a values-based movement and exploring faith and beliefs remain a key element of the Scouting programme,” he explained. “That will not change.” Not believing in God doesn’t mean having no faiths or beliefs, and the Scouts want to show that everyone’s values are respected.

Britain’s Scouts have always tried to keep up-to-date and modern for their members while keeping their own values and beliefs the focus. While Explorers has been a mixed-gender group since 1976, Scouts, Cubs and Beavers were all boys-only until 1991 when girls were allowed to join.

At last count,  the UK had 536,787 Scouts, and with next year’s positive changes to welcome anybody – no matter what they believe in – that number will surely creep up. They are, after all, doing their best.

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