Recently we enrolled Seth in Joeys (Scouts for young kids), I used to be in cubs when I was young and really loved it.
Almost immediately we ran into issues concerning our religion, or lack of one. Viv was told that there was a process in place that she could go through to become a leader if she so desired, later that evening Viv raised some objections to Seth having to write in a prayer book and asked if he could write an affirmation rather than a prayer, at that point she explained that we are atheists and were not comfortable with the children writing a prayer. Shortly after that revelation the offer to become a leader was withdrawn with the explanation that atheists were not allowed to be leaders in the scouting movement.
Back in the distant past when I was a cub I vaguely recall the “G” word appearing in the pledge we all said each meeting, at the time I was attending sunday school (and later fellowship) so it didn’t really register that this was unusual.
I hit up Google with the query “Religion in Scouting” and found a page devoted to it on wikipedia.
From what I read the founder of the scouting movement Robert Baden-Powell was of the belief that “spirituality and a belief in a higher power were key to the development of young people” he codified this belief in the rules of the scouting movement. Initially spirituality meant Christianity but in later years the growing popularity of the scouting movement lead to a softening of this stance to include non-monotheistic religions such as Hinduism and those that do not recognise a personal God like Buddhism.
Viv and I have been agonizing over what to for the last week.
I sent an email to the scout leader to see if my understanding of the situation was correct, text of email below (names withheld) ….
My name is Daniel Drysdale, my son Seth has recently started attending Joeys.
Last week my wife Vivien was told that she could become a leader if she was interested but upon disclosing that she is an atheist the offer was withdrawn.
I spent some time researching the issue of religion in scouting and found that Robert Baden-Powell held that spirituality and a belief in a higher power were key to the development of young people and that this belief forms the core of the scouting movement he founded.
My wife and I are atheists and have made sure to shield our children from religious beliefs so far, we do not have any issues with people of faith but we do not feel that exposure to religion is appropriate for children at such a young age.
Given all of that my question to you is simple.
Is there a place in the scouting organization for a member who is an atheist?
and to extend that a little..
If my son continues attending Joeys and moves on to cubs and later scouts, if he chooses to be an atheist will there come a time when he is excluded or discriminated against within the organisation due to his atheism?
I would really appreciate a prompt response as I am seriously considering pulling him out of Joeys before he gets too invested in it.
I received the following response
A core Principle of Scouting, is that a member of the Scout Association, whether youth or adult, must have a belief in a God.
My understanding of the rules, is that there is no place in Scouting for a person who does not have a belief in a God, because that person would not be able to adhere to this Principle.
Upon investment to the Movement a promise must be made by a Joey ; I promise to love my God….. and by a Cub and Scout and Leader ; On my honour I promise to do my best to do my duty to my God……….
I then replied
Thanks for the prompt reply.
I was expecting exactly this response but was secretly hoping I was wrong.
Sadly we will have to remove Seth from Joeys and cancel our plans for enrolling Callum, it is a real shame as aside from the religious issue we love the idea of scouts and we know it would have been fun and rewarding for the boys.
I understand that this is a clear case of “Their club. their rules” but it seems a crying shame that such a small issue should ruin an otherwise excellent organization.
We could of course either let Seth embrace a personal God or have him lie and pretend to be one of the group, neither option is palatable to us.
I find it interesting that Buddhism is allowed, with no concept of a personal God, is ok but that my own worldview of Secular Humanism is not.
Sadly without a Bill of Rights and legal protection from discrimination on religious grounds there is nothing we can do about it.
Now we have to break the news to the boys and there will be tears…
If anyone knows of a secular equivalent to scouts please let us know.
[UPDATE] While typing this post I was contacted by someone further up the food chain in the scouting movement and told that the definition of “my God” is very loose and can accommodate virtually any belief.
It feels a bit dishonest but we are going to see how it plays out, we are going to write “Humanist” on the application form for religion.