The Scout Association has launched an alternative godless version of its oath in a bid to be more welcoming to young atheists – but was criticised by some secularists for not going far enough.
From January this year, new recruits who are squeamish about promising a “duty to God” will be given the option to swear that they will “uphold Scout values”. The changes also mean that Scout leaders, who previously had to be religious themselves, no longer need to be part of any faith.
Wayne Bulpitt, UK chief commissioner for the Scout Movement, said the reform “signifies the determination [of the movement] to become truly inclusive and relevant to all sections of society that it serves.”
But he added: “We are a values-based movement and exploring faith and beliefs remains a key element of the Scouting Programme.”
Some campaigners said the decision was unsatisfactory, as the ‘core’ Scout Promise that refers to “duty to God” will apply for most new members.
The compromise position means the Scouts will no longer keep step with the Girl Guides, who announced they would expunge any mention of God from their oath in August.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “It’s not very brave of them to have gone down this route, rather than what the Girl Guides did, which was have the guts to see it through and take religion out of the promise altogether.”
Sanderson said the Girl Guides’ approach was “infinitely superior” because it “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.”
Alternative versions of the oath have existed for other faiths for almost 50 years, but this is the first promise which cuts out all religious belief.
British Humanist Association chief executive, Andrew Copson, said: “In taking the progressive step of welcoming non-religious people of good conscience, they have shown that they genuinely wish to be a movement open to all.”