UK Boy Scouts Under Fire for Oath Mentioning God

By Kevin McCandless | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

London ( - Echoing a battle already fought in America, secular humanists in Britain are attacking the Boy Scouts for requiring children to swear an oath to God.

In a joint campaign, the British Humanist Association and National Secular Society accused the Scout Association, which has around half a million members, of excluding atheists from its ranks.

Spokesmen for the two groups criticized the organization for refusing to allow non-believing adults in leadership positions, and for having scouts swear to "do their best to do their duty to God and to the Queen."

With Britain moving towards a mostly secular society, they said, the policy was harming boys who did not want to swear an oath falsely, particular those from deprived areas where there are no alternative youth groups available.

In a formal submission to the Scout Association, the two organizations said the stance was contrary to the spirit of Robert Baden-Powell, who founded the organization in the early years of the 20th century.

"He did not say 'A Scout is a Friend to All, except those with non-religious beliefs,'" they wrote, in reference to a clause in the Scout Law that says, "A Scout is a friend to all and a brother to every other Scout."

Leaders from the two groups met with Derek Twine, chief executive of the Scouts, last month to discuss the issue, although no progress was reported.

British Humanist Association head Hanne Stinson said in a statement that the leaders of the Scout Association "did not seem in the least concerned about the impact of their discriminatory policy."

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said the groups would now go directly to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a government body responsible for handling complaints of discrimination.

"We acknowledge the Scouts do a tremendous job, and are convinced that, if asked, most Scouts would not want to continue to exclude their non-religious comrades," he said.

Scout Association spokesman Chris Foster said Thursday the organization was committed to being inclusive.

The association's guidelines allow for the word "God" in the oath to be replaced by "Allah" or whatever would be suitable in the case of a particular member's religion. The guidelines do not, however, allow for leaving out reference to a deity altogether.

"It doesn't matter who you are or what you are," Foster said. "Any young people are welcome to join."

However, the Scouts would not be modifying or scrapping their oath, he said. "To be a Scout, you have to take the promise."

Foster said the association welcomed the debate, which he described as healthy.

A spokeswoman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said Thursday it would not comment on the matter.

After attempts to limit government support for the Boy Scouts of America because of its their policies on religion and homosexuality, two major laws were passed by Congress in recent years.

In 2002, the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act said that no school receiving government funds deny could access to the organization or any affiliated group. It also made it more difficult for state and federal agencies to reduce their support.

The Support Our Scouts Act of 2005, signed into law in early 2006, broadened the protection in the earlier law.

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