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BHA welcomes Scout Association consultation on admitting atheists

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The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the Scout Association today ‘launching a consultation to find out if its members would support the development of an alternative version of the Scout Promise for potential members who feel unable to make the existing Promise.’ The consultation is being launched because ‘For over 40 years, alternative versions of the words “Duty to God” have existed for faith groups such as Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists’ but no alternative for young people who are atheists and non-religious is currently available.

In 2006 and 2010, both the Scouts and Guides were granted an exemption from the Equality Act in order to allow them to continue to require their members to make a religiously discriminatory promise excluding non-religious young people not believing in a god. The BHA led the campaign in both years to try to remove this exemption, working with the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. Even before 2006, the BHA had long campaigned in favour of the Scout Association changing their current requirement for members to promise to do their duty to god or another deity or religion and requests for help and advice from parents encountering this problem with the Scouts and Guides have remained one of the largest single categories of correspondence received by the BHA each year.

Currently atheists who are Hindu or Buddhist can join the Scouts, making a promise to ‘their dharma’ rather than to a god, but non-religious atheists are barred from membership unless they are willing to lie about their beliefs. There have been repeated calls for this to change, with the BHA last making its case to the Scouts at a meeting with their Chief Executive in 2008.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson, welcoming today’s announcement, said:

‘The Scouts are an enormously significant youth organisation and in some parts of the country offer the only activities young people have. It is divisive, unfair and deeply sad that they continue to exclude young people of good conscience who do not believe in any god and are not willing to lie by saying words they don’t believe. According to repeated surveys, 65% and more of teenagers are not religious and they need to be included.

‘The special exemptions from equality laws that the Scouts have should be repealed but it would be even better if the Scouts would – in response to a changing society, the needs of young people and simple common sense – voluntarily take this inclusive step themselves. All people who care about inclusion will hope that the process beginning today leads to that change.’


For further comment or information contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on 07534 248596 or at

Read the Scout Association’s press release:

Respond to the consultation before 31 January 2013:

Read the legislation granting the Scouts and Guides an exemption from equality legislation:

Read the explanatory notes on that legislation:

Read the recent BHA press release, ‘11 year-old banned from joining the Scouts for refusing to pledge allegiance to God’:

Read the recent BHA press release, ‘Girl Guides in Australia drop their promise to serve God and the Queen’:

Read more about the BHA’s campaign on Scouts and Guides:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

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