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← Having to promise

Stevehill's Avatar Jump to comment 3 by Stevehill

From last Friday's NSS Newsline....

Scouting for God

In last week's Newsline we wrote about a young atheist girl's difficulties taking the Brownie Promise – which requires an oath to God. This week, we have heard from a mother whose six year old son has been refused entry to the Beaver Scouts because he too does not want to promise to 'love God'. When the mother spoke to a local Scout trainer about this, she reports that "I was subjected to a lengthy monologue, during which it was made very clear that any person who did not think there was a god would not be allowed to join the Scouts at any level (…) When I tried to seek clarification of a point, I was told in a very forceful tone 'Unless you listen to everything I have to say to you I will put the phone down on you'."

She was asked repeatedly what school her son attended and it was made clear that she was being blamed for his lack of belief. However, when she told her son about the promise he would have to make in order to join, he said "What?! No way!" – clearly a six year old who knows his own mind. Not surprisingly, she felt bullied. She ends her letter to us with "It does not seem right that an organisation as large as the Scouts should fall within the exception set out in the Equality Act 2010. The Scouts holds itself out as being open to all young people aged 6 – 25 of every faith and background."

At present, parents and children have little recourse. Sections 193(5) and (6) of the Equality Act 2010 were originally introduced as late amendments in the Equality Act 2006 Section 60 to allow the Scouts and Guides to keep the promise as a condition of membership. The NSS fought against this at the time but without success. The fact that new charities are not able to have such rules is a tacit admission that the exemption is wrong. Her husband then wrote to the Scout central office asking them to consider providing an alternative wording for the promise. They replied: "I am sorry to hear that your son was not able to partake in the Movement due to his non beliefs in a higher being and not being able or willing to undertake the promise. It is one of the fundamentals of Scouting that a potential member/member will have to state the promise. In this case it might be advisable to speak with your son and to see whether he believes in a higher being at all".

An additional problem is inconsistency; some troop leaders are more understanding and flexible than others. It would appear that the Brownies are more open-minded than the Scouts as girls can attend without making the Promise. This mother's experience shows that the more religious leaders have free rein to be as severe as they like, both in excluding children and in the way they treat parents.

It is important that we keep up the pressure for change. The Chief Executive of Scouts is Derek Twine who can be contacted by email at or the Scout Information Centre, Gilwell Park, Chingford, London, E4 7QW. You can write to the Chief Guide: Gill Slocombe, Chief Guide, Girlguiding UK, 17–19 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W OPT or email

The relevant part of the Equality Act 2010 (c. 15) Part 14 — General exceptions, Page 122

(5) It is not a contravention of this Act for a charity to require members, or persons wishing to become members, to make a statement which asserts or implies membership or acceptance of a religion or belief; and for this purpose restricting the access by members to a benefit, facility or service to those who make such a statement is to be treated as imposing such a requirement.

(6) Subsection (5) applies only if— (a) the charity, or an organisation of which it is part, first imposed such a requirement before 18 May 2005, and
(b) the charity or organisation has not ceased since that date to impose such a requirement.

Clearly if they drop the "requirement", under UK law, they can never then go back and reimpose, which ironically may act as a deterrent to change.

So far I've managed to keep my kids away from these charlatans.

Tue, 22 Nov 2011 13:11:07 UTC | #892268