British Scouts ban atheist child

October 18, 2012 • 11:16 am

As you might know, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have an official position, supported by the courts, that atheist boys can’t be membersAs Wikipedia notes (I can’t find the original Scout page, but there’s plenty on “Duty to God” for Scouts), the official Scout position is this:

“The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.’ The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.”

Avowed agnostic or atheist adults can’t be Scout leaders, either.

Nor can Boy Scouts be openly gay. Here’s the BSA’s official position:

The BSA policy is: “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”
Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.

The BSA is a voluntary, private organization that sets policies that are best for the organization. The BSA welcomes all who share its beliefs but does not criticize or condemn those who wish to follow a different path.

One would hope that this exclusionary policy would apply only in religious America.  But we now hear that it holds in England, too, where the equivalent of the Boy Scouts is the “Scout Association,” which also accepts girls.

As today’s Telegraph reports:

Schoolboy George Pratt had attended his local Scout group for ten months, and was expecting to invest in the group along with his friends.

But, after being required to swear the traditional promise, he found himself unable to join as he does not believe in God.

George, 11, said he was “very disappointed” in the decision, calling it “very unfair” and claiming he feels left out from experiences and trips his friends are attending.

His father Nick Pratt, 45, has accused the Scout movement of being “narrow minded” and “intolerant”, saying his son is being “excluded because he doesn’t believe”.

To become a full member of the 1st Midsomer Norton Group in Somerset, which meets in a hall opposite his home, George must take the Scout Promise.

This reads: “On my honour, I promise that I will do my best, To do my duty to God and to the Queen, To help other people, And to keep the Scout Law.”

George Pratt. Does not love God, ergo no caving for him!

The British Scouts are holding firm: George has to take the oath.

Despite admitting he is “really disappointed” at the strict rule, George has pledged he will not change his decision.

“I am really disappointed about not being able to go anymore just because I don’t believe in God,” he said.

“We have spoken about it with the Scout Leader but he won’t change his decision, it is very unfair.

“My friends who are Scouts don’t think it is right, either. Everyone is going caving soon and I’ve never been before. It is something I would love to do but I’m not allowed.

“I’m not going to change my decision though.”

Be sure to go to the Telegraph page to see a video of the brave lad reiterating his position.  But he goes wrong on one point: he claims that atheism is a religion because “not believing something is a belief.” It’s the old “not collecting stamps is a hobby” conundrum.  It is a position that there is no evidence for a god, but it’s not a “belief,” at least not in the same sense a religious belief is.

Regardless, though, someone please take George caving!

And shame on the U.S. and British Scouts for this despicable move (I don’t know what the British Scouts’ position is on homosexuality).

h/t: pyers

145 thoughts on “British Scouts ban atheist child

  1. A couple of points. Firstly, the British Scouts are not called “Boy Scouts”, and haven’t been since the 60s. Scouting in the UK is open equally to boys and girls.

    On sexuality, the Scout Association does not allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and has resources to support LGBT youths and leaders.

    It’s a shame that you would use miost of an article about Scouting in Britain to rehash BSA’s position on sexuality without being bothered even to get the the name of the Scout Association right, or to visit their website ( to search for policies and resources on sexuality.

    1. I appreciate your correction, which I’ve made, but I don’t appreciate your snark. And, in fact, I didn’t use most of my article to rehash the BSA’s position on sexuality.

      This is the kind of comment that I don’t appreciate because the commenter is simply urinating on the rug here and is unable to make the point politely.

      You get NO merit badge for courtesy!

      1. Well, why introduce BSA discrimination on sexuality into an article about Scouting in Britain? And I note you haven’t updated your article to say that British Scouting does not discriminate on the grounds of sexuality.

        I’d have been less snarky if you’d checked a few facts before posting!

        1. You need to work on your reading comprehension skills. No where did the OP claim that the British Scout Association discriminates against gays. And what are you so defensive about? Why shouldn’t the proprietor of this website talk about scouting in two different countries if he wants to? This is not Burger King and there is no obligation to give you what you want. Your ass is not the prettiest of sights so I wouldn’t recommend showing it off in public like this.

          1. Of course he can write about two countries if he likes – but it would have been nice for him to check his facts first. He’s had the opportunity to say that the Scout Association is welcoming of LGBT people, but has left his claim not to know. He even got the name of the organisation wrong (never a sign of thorough research) and imbalanced the piece by not researching the Scout Association’s policy on equality.

            Anyway, I’m mainly coming back to point out that the Scout Association has started a consultation on allowing atheists to be full members.

  2. “This reads: “On my honour, I promise that I will do my best, To do my duty to God and to the Queen, To help other people, And to keep the Scout Law.””

    Well, given that his “duty to [a nonexistent] god” is nil, he could very well take that oath as a non-believer. However, I resisted such semantic wrangling when I declined an invitation to a small fraternal order because of its oaths to believe in a higher power. So, props to the kid for holding fast, and jeers to the scouting org for being intolerant bigots.

    1. Same for Boy Scouts/Cub Scouts in the US. “…to do my duty to God…” doesn’t seem like a tough thing to promise since I owe no duties to someone who doesn’t exist. This is how I make myself feel better about letting my son do scouts.

  3. I was a boy of George’s age in 1938 in England and my father would not allow me to join the Boy Scouts – when I got older, I asked him why he was so adamant. He told me that it was because scout leaders were, on the whole,(no pun intended), a bunch of perverts.

  4. I’ve seen a lot of comments from atheists saying things like ‘he should just say it, it’s only a word’, but in my opinion it’s the principle. Why should he make allowances for Thierry beliefs when they won’t make allowances for his.

    As I understand, atheists aren’t banned from scouts here, though I’m unaware of anyone who said they won’t say the words. So long as you say god they allow you in. God can be changed for Allah, Buddha or even mother earth apparently, so long as you offer your duty to a higher being.

    1. What atheist would pledge duty to a higher being? That would be a lie, and so to be a Boy Scout in the US you have to profess something in which you don’t believe. That’s not right.

      There is NO justification for eliminating atheist boys from the U.S. or British Scouts. NONE.

      1. Apparently quite a few would say it Jerry, though I would never be able to. I swore an oath to the queen when I joined the RAF, refusing to swear on the bible.

        As far as I’m concerned, UK equality laws state that it’s against the law to discriminate against someone because of their beliefs, so this group is breaking the law.

        Also, best comment

        “This is not an 11 year old saying it, this is a child being brainwashed by his parents in to saying what they want”

        Oh the hypocrisy haha

        1. UK equality laws state that it’s against the law to discriminate against someone because of their beliefs …

          Unfortunately they asked for and got a specific exemption in Section 193, parts (5) & (6) of the Equality Act 2010.


          “(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.”

          1. Thanks for the I found coel, I wasn’t aware of that.

            Although one could argue that they no longer stick to their original statement. It used to be a Christian club, but they have since changed all the rules to allow other religions but still refuse those without. So by changing, they null and void their exemption.

            I may well be wrong, I’m no lawyer, I’m just disgusted that CHILDREN can be discriminated against because some adults can’t accept a lack of belief in the divine.

            1. Actually Scouting has never been strictly Christian and internationally some of the largest organizations are primarily Muslim (Indonesia) or Buddhist (Thailand) and the latter at least is one of the earliest scouting organizations (1911).

              Admittedly a lot of assumptions that the movement made are Christian (and western) based. My own uneducated guess is the UK Guides are more likely to follow their sisters in Australia and Canada in modifying their promise to allow atheists at all levels (apparently one can be a Guide without making the promise though one can’t get the equivalent of the BSA Eagle).

    2. [For the avoidance of doubt, let me start by saying that I am 7-point militant atheist, consider Dawkins/Harris/et al. far too conciliatory, etc.]
      Can I play devil’s advocate here?
      Provided Scouts do not receive any State funding/subsidy/etc., why should they not be allowed to discriminate on religious grounds?
      For example, should a club of militant pacifists be compelled to accept as a member a serving military person?
      Just a thought …

      1. You do have a point. In the US, the Boy Scouts have a special government recognized position. If it is not that way for the British scouts, then right of association must have some weight.

      2. If by compelled you mean forced by law enforced by the government, I don’t think many people would agree with that. Provided, of course, that the Scouts truly comply with the requirements of being legally classified as a private organization that does not receive support from the tax payers. I don’t think any of the comments here have suggested that either.

        But, why should we not criticize, even pressure (by legal means of course), a private organization that engages in morally reprehensible, but legal, behavior? Seems more like a civic duty to do so, to me. Bigot away if you must, but don’t expect to not be criticized for it.

        1. It could be further said that, though some US “troops” are essentially auxialries of a particular sectarian congregation, the BSA largely serve a secular function. In many small towns they are the only game if a kid wants outdoorsy activities with a group.

          I was apparently the one and only village atheist as a kid, in a hamlet where the BSA were the only alternative to the Calvinist Cadet Korps…

      3. They receive over a million dollars a year in federal government grants. Many of the grants go into the Councils bank accounts, which are utilized for financing the Boy Scouts programs.

      4. For example, should a club of militant pacifists be compelled to accept as a member a serving military person?

        Mahatma Gandhi served, with distinction and courage, in the military during WW1. He was a medical orderly.
        Do you have a better example to choose?

        1. I am sorry but I fail to see your point (very probably my fault). In what way does pointing to a “worthy” example of someone serving in the army (in a non-combat capacity, by the way) address the principle that private associations not funded/supported in any way by the State should be free to set their membership rules (and people should be free to campaign against them)? I am currently being prevented from joining my local ladies’ bridge club purely on account of my being furnished with a penis. Are you going to campaign to stop this abomination?

    3. I have a friend who would simply add another letter “o” into the word “God” so that her son could pledge himself to “Good.” This went over fine in a liberal northwest coast area. It was flagged and created hysteria when she moved elsewhere.

    4. That’s the problem. There IS NO HIGHER BEING. And being an atheist — by definition — means that you are someone who understands this essential fact about the universe.

      Pledging allegiance to your fairy godmother is intellectually and ethically untenable.

      I applaud the kid for sticking to his guns.

    1. Apparently George feels that the words “on my honor” actually count for something and that he can’t honorably take the oath if he doesn’t mean it.

      1. For FSM sake, that’s a bit strong. “Disgust” is the emotion you get when you hear about some obnoxious hate crime, or sex crime, or the like. “Disgust” for a pragmatic approach that allows you to go canoeing, caving, rock climbing, camping, etc. etc.? What, really, You really believe that words have so much power as to cripple your life?

        I’m an atheist, for crying out loud, I’m not controlled by weaselly words about some bronze-age imaginary concept. I thought that was the whole point of atheism – to be outside the strictures of such magic spells.

        *Yours* is the approach which disgusts *me*.

        1. Allow me to clarify. It is not the pragmatic approach to masking blatantly antagonistic viewpoints that I take issue with. It is the fact that you would defend an organization that is forcing children (and parents) to do so in order to participate.

          Depending on where you live and who you know, there can be an immense social pressure to join the scouts, or at least participate in those types of activities. And that isn’t the kind of social pressure children can even properly comprehend, nor should they have to deal with it. To add on top of that an arbitrary divider, that you are either fit or unfit for inclusion, and that the only way in is to lie and deceive and hide your true self, in an organization FOR CHILDREN?

          I take back my comparison with DADT. This is worse, because in scouts, they DO ask, and you had better tell the lie they want to hear, or you’ll get your ass kicked to the curb. No meeting other children your age, no learning life skills or having fun, no hanging with your friends. You are unfit to be around these other children.

          That is what is disgusting, and anyone who would defend an organization with this as their mode of operation is guilty as well.

          Hence, you disgust me.

          1. When I was 11 years old I wanted to join the Scouts. I didn’t have time for all that goddy malarkey, so I took all that bollocks with a pinch of salt and said the words that I needed to say to get in. I really can’t see why it’s a big deal. There wasn’t a great deal else to do.

            If it’s necessary to say some meaningless words in order to achieve an aim, then I will say those meaningless words. I’m not defending the scouting organisation, but I will not say bad things about my scout troop because they were a good bunch.

            Oh, and when I said, “we all did”, we were a pretty godless bunch when all said and done. As 11-14 year olds (I left at 14, had better things to do) we didn’t let such pointless piffle as “religion” get in our way.

            If the new Atheism is the new Puritanism, i.e. that you’ve got to be miserable and pious and self-righteous like you bunch of prigs then I’m not calling myself a fucking Atheist any more. You guys are just unbelievable.

            1. It is a big deal because it is mandated as a condition of membership. If it isn’t a big deal to BSA, why does BSA make it a mandate for membership? The people who refuse to go along with the mandate are not the ones who are turning it into a big deal, on the contrary, they are pointing out that it isn’t a big deal and that BSA is very wrong to turn it into a big deal. And they are correct, BSA is wrong.

            2. I think the point you miss, donotwash, is that we (or at least I) are/am not concerned about what the kids are saying. What is most troubling is what the organization is enforcing on parents and on the relationship between kids and parents.

              I was a scouting dad. I never became a leader because I value honesty more than being in a uniform. I supported my son’s involvement and when he got old enough to figure out for himself what bigotry is like in the scouts, I let him know I was proud of his resignation. I let him enjoy the camping and camaraderie but didn’t pretend to believe in that which is laughable.

              Please stop pretending that this about some kind of Puritan motive. It isn’t. It is just refusal to play dishonest games as an adult.

              1. “It is just refusal to play dishonest games as an adult.” No it’s not, it’s a projection of an adult’s unease with philosophical points that interferes with a child’s ability to go off and enjoy himself with a bunch of like-minded oiks.

                Forcing religion on a child happens everywhere (it’s how religion propagates). But forcing atheism upon a child is exactly the same. If a child comes upon it to himself, all well and good, let them decide whether or not to join / continue in membership on their own.

                Honesty is over-rated. Let your hair down and get a life – and fight over the stuff that matters, not this small-minded stuff about meaningless words.

              2. Are you being intentionally obtuse? How a parent models honesty to his/her children is not forcing anything on children.

                Taking dishonest oaths may not bother you. It does me, and others, and I am far from what anyone would call a “puritan”. And I certainly have no need for whatever constitutes your version of “getting a life”.

                I’ll shut up now in honor or our host’s puritanical prohibition of saying what I think of the your ability to scale “mindedness”.

            3. You have just raised an interesting point when you said: “those meaningless words…”
              The question arises – how many people, when asked to complete an official document (could be for hospital admission) will list the religion they grew up with, but almost certainly are no longer practising congregants? This does not bother me any more, but I know that most of my friends and family members would feel obliged to place it on record.
              So, just how accurate are the statistics we are fed on the numbers of believers that make up any given population grouping?
              I would like to read some comment on this…

            4. I have my misgivings about some scouting movements in general and whether children should be made to make such laden pledges in particular, but if they make them, I’d surely encourage them to take oaths and pledges seriously.

              We can all run into the situation where we honestly pledge something, but later discover that it would be deeply wrong to keep that pledge. But to take an oath while knowing upfront that you’re not serious about it is morally rejectable.

              And then there’s the smallish fact that, in later life, some oaths can have serious consequences when broken. Try perjury in court for starters, then become an MD and ignore your Hippocratic oath, and round off your career disobeying orders in the army. Don’t forget to tell the firing squad that it was, haha, all just a joke.

      2. We non-believers tend to be critical of religious folks who foist their beliefs on their kids, especially the parents who claim that their children were born as little Methodists, or little Mormons, or little whatevers. My own view is that we ought not do the inverse ourselves.

        As the father of two boys, I’ve tried to encourage them to be open-minded on a range of topics, including in particular religion, while attempting to be scrupulously honest about my personal views on the topic. (Kids’ questions usually serve as a pretty good guide as to what they’re ready to discuss and consider, so long as they’re given to understand that no questions or topics are taboo.)

        Scouting never became an issue for either of my sons. As I recall, they each went to an introductory scouting meeting and felt it wasn’t for them. Had they felt the desire to join, however, I can imagine them having very different reactions to this “duty to God” business, based upon their distinct personalities.

        One boy might well have objected strenuously to mouthing a pledge he didn’t believe in. I would have backed that kid in fighting it as far as he wanted to go. To the Supremes if that’s what it took.

        The other son, him I could see saying: “I just want to go camping and canoeing with my buddies, Dad. I couldn’t care less about saying this stuff. Doesn’t mean anything to me.” I would have backed that kid a hundred percent, too. I certainly wouldn’t have insisted he make a stink about it, much less that he set himself up as a test case.

        Life is full of decisions on where to take a stand on principle, where to compromise, when to keep your powder dry for the battles you believe are worth fighting. Scouting might even have turned into a “teachable moment,” as an honorary Eagle Scout here in the U.S. likes to say.

        Just the two cents of one non-believer who’s tried to muddle his way through fatherhood.

        1. +1

          It matters – as much as you think it matters. I’ve been to weddings in Catholic churches where I just sat there and didn’t feel obliged to spoil someone else’s occasion by making my unbelief apparent (and I note, the service was so arranged that only those who wished i.e. Catholics went forward to do the wafer thing, so no undue attention was drawn to the ‘others’. I can live with that).

          OTOH, when doing jury service, I choose to ‘affirm’ rather than swear on the bible. If that option wasn’t available then, in the interests of helping justice and the possibly arrogant assumption that my presence on a jury would be beneficial, I’d probably suppress my objections and swear a meaningless oath to a non-existent god. But I wouldn’t compromise on the verdict.

          For the ‘it’s telling a lie’ brigade, I’d just point out that we do that all the time. “Yes dear, that dress looks great on you”.

          1. The problem is when “we do that all the time” becomes the justification for doing it when it is important NOT to. It comes down to determining the point where “white lies” transition into life in the closet.

            One might want to check out Sam Harris’ short eBook, “Lying”, for a systematic argument to counter “we do it all the time”.

            1. Swearing a meaningless oath to a nonexistent deity? I would consider it demeaning to take such nonsense seriously. I would certainly say that anyone who demands that I swear an oath of loyalty – has lost it.

              However, as you say, it’s a question of where to draw the line. I’d try to act so as to give the greater good to the most number of people – which may or may not correspond to ‘telling the truth’.

          2. The point is that it’s not just a casual white lie. It’s an oath taken on one’s word of honor. (Do you really consider marriage vows, for instance, to be of no more consequence than insincere compliments on your spouse’s appearance?)

            In my opinion, such oaths ought to be taken seriously, if honor is to mean anything, and kids like George who do take them seriously ought not to be called fools or self-righteous prigs for doing so.

            1. I didn’t call George a prig and nor did Ken Kucek who I was agreeing with.

              And where the hell did you get that strawman about marriage vows? I don’t recall anything in ‘love honour and obey’ that requires me to tell my wife when a dress makes her look fat!

              I would hardly equate joining the Boy Scouts with getting married, in significance. But I take our marriage seriously, for my sake, my wife’s, and the almost 30 years we’ve got invested in it – not because of some ritual formula uttered in some religious ceremony 30 years ago.

        2. With respect to BSA, publicly saying the complete oath all of the time will not secure membership. If BSA national office ( which processes all membership applications) is given evidence that someone is an atheist then they will revoke or deny membership. The only way to secure membership (for both Scouts and Scouters) is to publicly self-claim to be a theist.

    2. How much does it matter, really?

      It matters because instructing children to lie teaches that principles are things to be discarded whenever they prove inconvenient, that belonging to a group is more important than standing up for oneself, and that it’s okay to makes promises one has no intention of upholding.

      1. Teaching children to lie? Oh come on, children are the biggest liars of the lot. Can you seriously not remember being a child? If you can, and you were as big a prig as you come across, then yes, I knew you and I hated your guts then too, because you were the one who took tales to teacher.

        1. Yes, kids lie. But kids also learn how to behave by seeing the behavior of the adults in their lives. I think it is rather better for adults to model honesty.

          Remind me not to let you, unwatched, anywhere near my home.

    3. How do you uphold one of the principal values of scouting, which is honesty, I presume, when first you have to lie to get your foot in the door? It seems like it matters quite a lot, actually.

  5. I suppose somebody has to make the obvious pun about not caving on caving.

    Good for him for standing his ground; sad that he won’t be able to participate in the adventure.

    1. Page 8 of that guidance contains your answer: you can have clubs/associations whose membership is restricted to people with a particular “protected characteristic”. So you can have women-only golf clubs, gay choirs, Jewish cricket teams, and cavers for Jesus.

      1. As pointed out earlier here, British Scouting asked for and got a specific exemption in Section 193, parts (5) & (6) of the Equality Act 2010

  6. I’m not so sure on this one. The Scouts have always been explicitly religious; it’s one of their core principles. And there are alternatives (e.g., Woodcraft) which are equally explicitly the non-religious version of caving & camping. So, to me, wanting to be an atheist Scout is similar to wanting to be an atheist priest.

    British Scouts are much more relaxed about homosexuality, mind. They attend Gay Pride festivals and everything:

    1. I think the problem is that being religious is derived from principles which are even more important. Since the existence of God is not a universally accepted empirical fact which can easily be demonstrated as true, being religious can end up conflicting with the core principles.

      They talk casually about “recognizing” God, in order to skirt round the problem.

      1. Since the existence of God is not a universally accepted empirical fact which can easily be demonstrated as true,

        The common problem is that “you can’t prove a negative”. I’m not a sophisticated-enough philosopher to try to argue with that; it sounds good enough to me.
        Can you list what you think are “universally accepted empirical fact”[-s]? I’m trying to come up with one. The law of gravity has certain, genuine, doubters (MOND, and the general inability (so far) to incorporate gravity into Quantum Mechanics, or vice versa). Cats also appear to harbour intrinsic doubt about the importance of gravity.
        I’m not sure that there are any “universally accepted empirical fact”[-s], even if you exclude the (probably) delusional people.

        1. When I spoke of “universally accepted empirical facts” I was referring to things like “the sun is hot” or “the oak tree has oak leaves.” Obvious, uncontroversial objects and conclusions about objects of common experience and perception.

          It isn’t uncommon for people who believe in God to compare atheists to “people who deny that the sun exists” or “blind people refusing to believe that there is such a thing as sight.” Of course, we don’t actually KNOW any people who, as a matter of course, deny that the sun exists, nor do we know any blind people who think other people can’t see. Such people would be either insane or perverse. They’d be pretending they can’t “recognize” what ordinary sense and/or reason OUGHT to recognize… probably out of rebellion or some other agenda.

          Thus, this is how the Scouts are framing atheists. We don’t “recognize” God as the ruling power in the Universe. It’s like saying “I don’t recognize the sun as a power in the solar system. Nope. I don’t believe in it. There’s no such thing. No, I won’t look up there, it hurts my eyes. You can’t convince me.” Perverse.

          How dare they? How dare they invent a method and approach called “faith” so they can be sure of things which are unsupported by ordinary reason and evidence — and then pretend that disagreeing with those “faith” conclusions is virtually insane? We “recognize” God or “refuse” to do so out of stubborn pique and a lack of character.

          THAT’s where the conflict lies. Conflating a fact claim with a value, and confusing having a belief with the practice of virtue. Scouts may or may not have a legal right — but they’re on the moral outs on this.

    1. The Boy Scout “perversion” files have been released. LA Times has a searchable database of the documents, even.

  7. My son was a scout in a fairly liberal service-oriented troop. I participated as an involved parent but refused to be a scout leader because I value honesty and as an atheist I wouldn’t pretend to believe. One of my proud parental moments came when my son, on his way to Eagle status, became aware of the Scout policy on atheists and gays. He wrote an excellent letter to his troop leader and the head of the Milwaukee scouting organization explaining in clear terms why he felt compelled to leave. He did this on his own having matured enough to understand the world clearly as a young adult. It is a real shame that scouting is controlled by a bunch of homophobic theists because it otherwise is an excellent experience for kids.

      1. Very true. It is the closest thing I know to being a secular version of the Boy Scouts. Perhaps in time it may grow to be a more year round type of organization, but for now it is indeed just a summer camp.

        Thank you for pointing out the important difference, I would not want to cause confusion.

        1. In the US there is Campfire USA.

          Back when I was a kid they were called Campfire Boys and Girls and advertised extensively, but I’ve run into a lot of people who’ve never heard of them.

          1. Thanks for the reminder. I’d forgotten about them. From the ‘about’ page:
            “We are inclusive, open to every person in the communities we serve, welcoming children, youth and adults regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation or other aspect of diversity. Camp Fire’s programs are designed and implemented to reduce sex-role, racial and cultural stereotypes and to foster positive intercultural relationships. Camp Fire’s mission is to build caring, confident youth and future leaders.”
            Wandering the site, it looks like they could use some support, publicity, and an increase in membership.

          2. It would be good if they could grow to the point where the social attraction of being with one’s schoolmates wasn’t such an advantage for BSA.

  8. The cynic in me wonders if, maybe, the BSA doesn’t want to allow atheists to join because those boys aren’t as ‘pliable’ as the religious ones are.

    1. I think you’re close. I think they’re an authoritarian organization designed to prepare boys for adult authoritarian organizations like the military, and they promote an authoritarian ideology to that end.

      1. You don’t need the “I think” in there. They are now, were set up as, and have always explicitly been intended to act as a training organisation for the military.

        1. Yes as someone who knows nothing about the BSA (European, atheist), I’m re-reading the quote by Jerry “do my duty … to my country” and especially “the best type of citizenship”, and have to agree that explicit laying down of one’s individuality is exactly what you get from military type organisations. Obey and serve, don’t think for yourself!
          Whatever happened to being a good citizen with personal freedom?

      2. The scouting movement was founded by Robert Baden-Powell, a late Victorian professional soldier. His Wikipedia entry explains a lot about why the organisation is as it is.

  9. I’ll be honest, my initial reaction was to write a comment complaining, ‘Oh, how can you pick holes in an 11 year-old’s use of the term “belief”! Isn’t that a bit unfair? He’s only eleven!’ But then I re-read what you actually said, “It is a position that there is no evidence for a god”. “Position”? I like that. I’ve been toying with the semantics of this issue for a while now and that does strike me as a reasonable alternative. It avoids all the unfortunate connotations that “belief” gives rise to. I think I might have to remember it. So, thanks!

    1. Atheism is not a religion, but it is a belief (contrary to what Mr. Coyne said). Belief is a broad concept, it covers both well justified opinions and unjustifiably crazy opinions. I disagree with insisting on substituting words like “position” for well- justified belief, but we can understand why some people want to avoid using “belief” for well justified conclusions. The fact is that many people wrongly think the word “belief” implies conceding that the claim has low status equally with all other beliefs, like many people wrongly think that the word “theory” always implies unsubstantiated opinion.

      1. I don’t think of my atheism as a belief any more than I consider my lack of belief in demons a belief… or my lack of belief in Scientology.

        I think it’s silly to call the myriad of things one doesn’t believe in a “belief”– especially when it comes to poorly defined things and things that cannot be distinguished from imaginary things.

        Do you consider your lack of belief in fairies to be a belief in itself? How about your lack of belief in alien abductions? It seems to me that you water down the term belief when you call the things a person doesn’t believe in a “belief”.

        1. I disagree. We believe that Scientology is false, that leprechauns are fictional, etc. all educated adults have lots of beliefs, having lots of beliefs is one of the criteria that makes us educated adults.

    1. [SELF : Dons hard had and lamp.] Speaking as a member of a UK caving club now.
      Our club had long and agonised discussions about this around 15 years ago. With great reluctance we decided that we could no longer accept under-16s as “family members”, even with other members of their family always present. We cannot accept (and are explicitly not insured for) under-16s on club caving trips (the surface camping element of such trips, they’re OK, if accompanied by family members or people acting in loco parentis). Even with around 30,000 potential buyers of insurance, our national body could not find an insurer willing to provide insurance for members (via their local clubs) to take the under-16s underground). A subsidiary difficulty was that (according to some of the lawyers we consulted) even if we could get insurance, every person attending a meet involving under-16s would have to present their Criminal Records Bureau check results to the meet leader on the day, as would anyone that we met underground (in systems with 6 or 8 distinct entrances joining underground, this is already completely impossible). Since these records are confidential, and must be kept confidential, this puts the (volunteer) meet leaders under a duty of care to maintain confidentiality of those records, with personal legal consequences in the event of failure. Even if you could get all members through the multiple-months of CRB checking, and keep them up to date, persuading potential meet leaders take on the responsibility of the record keeping was another back-breaker.
      With great reluctance, we decided that we couldn’t justify the hassle to all members in order to provide a benefit for around a quarter of members.
      A natural (and expected) consequence of that is that club membership is falling, slowly.
      I would expect that every similar club (rock-climbing, general mountaineering, probably twitching too, though they’re less intrinsically hazardous) is in much the same position. Certainly, the “Conservation Corps” groups who I was myself associated with when I was a youth (sharp edge tools ; tree-felling work) have all closed down, for much the same reasons.
      In short, child-protection hysteria has effectively shut down almost all non-professional outdoor activity for children. Organisations the size of the Scouts are about the only exception.
      To add insult to injury, shortly before this palaver was enacted, a Scouts “cave leader” was taking some of his family’s children and their young friends walking past one of our regular caves. This Scout-trained and Scout-approved “cave leader”, knowing the caves of the area, allowed two of the kids – about 11y.o. – to “explore” one of the holes in the ground, using a cigarette lighter for illumination. The kids found the route known as “Rat Hole” (it had been in the guide books for 20 years before that time), the leading kid found it by stepping onto the hole ; the second kid heard the screams. Three separate screams, before they were too far away to hear. The drop was about 90m. So much for “Scout training” being wonderfully good. We almost lost our entire “GG” meet that year because of that idiot Scout “cave leader”. A year or two later, the whole bullshit about “child protection” rose up in all it’s gory details, and we still look at the Scouts’ privileged position with some distaste.
      TL;DR version : most outdoors activity clubs in Britain can’t take on under-16 members.

      1. Not just child protection, it’s the whole ‘health and safety’ religion that’s crawled out of the woodwork. With it’s insistence that if any sort of accident happens, then someone must be ‘held accountable’ (i.e. stage a witch-hunt and find a scapegoat).

        Not that it’s child-related, but here the local Lions Club used to annually collect fallen timber from one of the local forests for firewood for pensioners. They can’t do that now because, if any of the volunteers were to have an accident, the forest owners could be prosecuted. Insane!

  10. When I heard it said that atheism is a belief it reminded me of a something that I once heard Hitchens give. He said, “If atheism is a religion then abstinence is a sex position.” He may not have originated this quote but either way it seems to do a good job of showing how ludicrous this claim is.

    1. Hitchens is correct, atheism is not a religion. Beliefs are not all religions or religious either. Atheism is a belief, at least when it is defined as a positive/explicit assertion that there probably are no gods.

  11. This reads: “On my honour, I promise that I will do my best, To do my duty to God and to the Queen, To help other people, And to keep the Scout Law.”

    I don’t see the problem here.

    What is my duty to an imaginary Sky Fairy?

    About the same as my duty to the fairies, Easter Bunny, Zeus, Thor, or Eastre.

    And less than my duty to the brownies. How hard is it to put a saucer of milk out every now and then?

    1. There is a problem with asserting a duty to a fictional character in the context of real life, and therefore non-fictional, oath. It is a contradiction. You can choose to ignore the contradiction, but the contradiction is present.

      1. I don’t see that at all.

        You are acknowledging your duty (whatever that is or means) to a fictional entity.

        Which as it turns out is zero, nothing.

        There is no contradiction. The fact that the duty and god are fictional and the oath is real is irrelevant.

        1. But the Scouts say that they won’t accept atheists. When you take the oath, you are expected to believe in a god. What you are suggesting still violates the spirit of the oath, and that is what the Scouts care about.

          So, as others have noted, we end up with a DADT position for children. That wasn’t acceptable for gay people, and it’s not acceptable for atheists.

          1. Moreover, suppose some atheist kid adopts this cynical posture and then gets found out. How does that make him look? Like a principled young non-believer who followed his conscience? Or like a selfish kid with no moral compass who’ll say anything to get what he wants and deny any wrongdoing when caught? How does the latter advance the cause of justice for kids like George?

            1. Who cares? Where are these conscience police who wag their disapproving fingers at the supposed bad morals of some kid who just wants to get to go canoeing? Or is that how people *really* think in the real world?

              Seriously, if this actually *matters* to someone then I really think they need to get out more.

              1. Donotwash, any Scout who is an atheist will have their membership revoked if someone provides BSA national office with evidence that the Scout is an atheist and the Scout does not deny being an atheist. It doesn’t matter if the Scout publically recites the entire oath all of thine, and publicallyly prays, and goes every day to church. Simply being outed by someone and not lying about one’s atheism will result in revocation or denial of membership.

              2. The amount of disapproval (contempt, even) you show for most of the other voices here is an illustration of conscience policing. See, anyone can do it, even badly.

              3. Apparently you haven’t noticed that the world is full of Christian moralists who love to wag their fingers at what they perceive as godless immorality. Do you seriously think they’re just going to let it slide if some atheist kid is caught lying on his Scout oath?

                Maybe you’re the one who needs to get out more.

        2. Here is an BSA official statement regarding the definition of this phrase in their oath. They clearly state that duty to god is a literal duty that comes before duty to country, others, and self. No atheist that I know of can agree that they have such a duty to god without literally lying.

          Duty to God

          Q. Can an individual who states that he does not believe in God be a Volunteer Scout leader or member?

          No. The Scout Oath, which documents the basic values of Scouting, literally and figuratively addresses the issue of “duty to God” before duty to country, others and self.

          Q. Why is duty to God important to Scouting?

          A. Since its founding in the United States in 1916, the Boy Scouts of America has had an ongoing commitment to encouraging moral, ethical and spiritual growth. The BSA believes that the principles set forth in the Scout Oath and Law are central to the BSA’s goals of teaching the values of self-reliance, courage, integrity and consideration of others.

          Q. What harm would come of admitting young people who can not support the BSA position on duty to God?

          The Scout Oath and Law have served as the foundation of Scouting for over 81 years. It would be a disservice to over five million youth and adult members of Scouting to allow selective adherence to one or more elements of the Oath or Law. To do so would result in an organization that lacked the clear definition enjoyed by the BSA.

  12. It seems to me that the organization has the right to take this stance. It also occurs to me that responsible, tolerant members would be quite noble in withdrawing their participation, sending a clear message to the leadership. Perhaps a motivated citizen might start an equivalent organization, naming it in a way that would emphasize that tolerance. In doing so, it would cast a palpable shadow of shame on the misguided leadership of this sad group.

    1. I agree, no one should join or donate to BSA or to British Scouting or any other such group that excludes atheists. There is a problem, however, with BSA receiving federal grants that goes into the bank accounts which finance the BSA program.

  13. When I was a Boy Scout in the 1960’s in Oxford, England, the Scout Master was a chemistry post- doc at the University. He used to co-opt some of his friends to help out. One such person was a somewhat eccentric young zoologist, Richard Dawkins, known to us as “Dawkie”, who gave great slide shows on African wildlife, demonstrated his short wave radio and generally made science look exciting and cool. I recall that he even demonstrated fire-eating at camp, one Whitsun. He certainly influenced me in deciding on science as a career.

    As far as I know, there wasn’t even the suggestion of banning atheists at the time and I have no recollection whether Dawkins himself was an atheist then or not. We all dutifully said our pledges and prayers (as we did at school) but for most of us, I suspect it was just an empty ritual.

  14. He should just join another troupe. Clearly this particular one is run by a faithhead bigot moron, so he’s better off elsewhere anyway.

    1. It’s not this particular troop’s policy ; it’s the formal policy of the entire Scouts Association. Difference is not permitted.

    1. Christ! The hypocrisy is too much to bear. Apparently these feeble minded jesus freaks are also consummate hair splitters. To them you are only a homo if you like to have sex with other consenting males of your own age group. No worries though if you are an adult male who likes to have sex with minor males. Nope, if you are a homo and a child molester, we can work with that.

  15. “The evil among us.”

    If the pacific readers of WEIT wish to be pushed to homicidal mania you only need to trot on over to and look at the extensive and fully citated (is that a word?) commentaries on DS Wilson’s silly piece on group selection and …..(guess?) the “exquisite” adaptedness of evangenical christian religion!!

    Here is an example – Anyone is dared to make sense of these pieces, most funded by Templeton.

  16. No, the rules are not very progressive… and no way would I want to be a boy scout or boy scout leader…but don’t they have the right to have whatever rules they want?

    And how does that child know if he believes in a god or not? He’s only 11!

    1. Precisely
      At age 11 can a child believe in a god or not, so why force one to swear an oath to a god, if he is not old enough to know if there is or is not one.
      Personally I believe that at age 11 a person is old enough to be an atheist, because surely everybody is born an atheist and then some unfortunate children are brainwashed into a theist belief.

    2. It is all the more contemptible that BSA makes theism a condition of membership given that the membership consists of young children.

    3. …but don’t they have the right to have whatever rules they want?

      No. Next question?

      And how does that child know if he believes in a god or not? He’s only 11!

      I think an effective test would be whether he can articulate his reasons for belief (or non-belief, or even a shopping list). Which he clearly can.
      Incidentally, a significant number of religions of various stripes require people to pass a significantly complex test of dogma and belief before they can be considered as members of that religion. Very often they are willing to accept the affirmations and exam results of children of this sort of age.

    4. “And how does that child know if he believes in a god or not? He’s only 11!”

      What a ridiculous thing to say. I knew I didn’t believe in gawd when I was 8 years old. I didn’t know the word ‘atheist’ but I knew I was having none of it. At what magical age, then, do we suddenly know what we believe and that becomes a valid statement? What, possibly, are you thinking? Of course he knows what he believes!

  17. It’s nice to imagine a competing organization that would welcome gays, atheists, and other persons despised by “polite” society. Such an organization should of course extend a welcome to believers as well, to show that they are not small-minded like the Boy Scouts.

  18. An atheist friend of mine went all the way to Eagle Scout and then was made an adult Scout leader until they found out he was atheist.

    When he was stripped of his leadership position, the statement overtly said that he “was unfit to serve minors in ANY capacity” (emphasis added) suggesting he was a corrupting influence on children.

    Considering the Star Tribune article cited above, that really takes the cake!!

  19. Former Governor General of Australia Bill Hayden could not become patron of the Australian Boy Scouts because he’s an atheist. He was, however, invited to a similar position in the Boys Brigade, an explicitly Christian organisation.

  20. it’s not a “belief”

    Yes it is. It is a belief that matter, that the universe, exists of itself. It is the anti-scientific belief that the universe exists because of nothing.

    1. This is off-topic. We can discuss how the empirical evidence favors the conclusion that the natural world is self-contained when that question is the topic, assuming you really are willing to let the evidence lead the discussion instead of your intuition.

  21. What’s that? An 11-year-old can’t really be atheist? An 11-year-old certainly knows whether he or she believes in god.

    That doesn’t mean all children have actively considered the matter. (Hell, most adults have never actively considered the matter.) But if atheism is (or can be) not an affirmative position (“I believe it is not the case that supernatural beings like gods exist”) but the simple absence of a belief in gods, then anyone can be an atheist. Infants are all atheists in that sense.

  22. Haven’t read the posts, so I apologize if someone else said the same thing, but…

    I would have little problem making that oath. Just as I would have little problem swearing an oath to do whatever Santa Claus asks of me. I don’t think any such request is forthcoming, but if it appears, I’ll honor my oath.

    I admire young Mr. Pratt’s openness and honesty. He’s obeying the spirit of the rule rather than its letter. But I can’t help thinking that even the scouts organization itself might not expect anything from its members other than to obey the letter of this particular clause.

    1. Haven’t read all the posts, but I suspect someone else has pointed out that joining in on casual bigotry isn’t really helpful in the long run — if your main goal is to foster character.

      Sure, a person can either lie or fudge things a bit so that they’re not really atheist, or gay, or black, or Jewish and now they can get into the discriminatory organization without anyone who thinks it’s okay to discriminate being confronted, made uncomfortable, or forced to re-think the rightness of their position. Words are slippery things, and can be slipped around when it’s convenient for everyone.

      And a lot of people can and do and did do so. On a case-by-case basis, it’s not that big a thing. There can be strong benefits on the other side. Individuals are individuals, and choices have to be made, and everyone is more or less satisfied. We understand, and can sympathize, and forgive. Yes. Sure.

      But let’s not kid ourselves that this is taking the High Road here.

      1. I didn’t say taking the oath was the high road. Reread the second sentence in that last paragraph – I agree that what Pratt did is taking the high road.

        1. I know. And yes, I shouldn’t have implied you did. I was distracted by a discussion on the merits of rational re-interpretation as a sort of third-way out of the predicament — a middle road. It’s a pretty low middle.

  23. That boy’s lucky he got kicked out. Scouts is an awful organization founded on imperialist dogma. Many of my worst memories of childhood come from my time in scouts. It’s an outdated group that should have died half a century ago.

    Parents, be smart, keep your kids as far away from these people as you can.

    Thanks to Jerry for pointing this out.

    1. It’s what truthspeaker noted in thread #14, originally a paramilitary organisation. Some scouting clubs still have that putrid stench of 19th century militarism and nationalism that got so many to volunteer in 1914, defeat the Hun and be Back For Christmas!

      In that respect I have more misgivings about the ‘duty to the Queen’ bit than to the godbit. Duty to an unelected descendant of bloodthirsty tyrants?

      1. And this would somehow be worse than duty to G W Bush, Halliburton and Tony Bliar? I don’t recall Liz starting any wars lately…

        1. Come on, infiniteimprobabilit. “Duty to Queen” is euphemism for “duty to the state”. The reference is to a role in British society, not to an old lady in funny hats.

          1. I know that, and you know that, but apparently Draken (‘unelected descendant of bloodthirsty tyrants’) doesn’t see it that way. Come to that, I’m not too sure about the credentials of my ancestry, for all I know there could be some nasty customers in it, like most other people I suspect.

            I do entirely agree that ‘duty to the state’ can include some very unpleasant behaviour.

  24. From what I understand, there’s a few groups out there that match scoutings ‘scout’ skills, but aren’t as crazy as the BSA, one in particular is the BPSA:

    Can’t vouch for any of these groups from experience though.

    And in the UK there is the similarly named Baden Powell Scouts’ Association:
    Who openly state that they’re open to everyone.

  25. One example of the dangers of dumping labels and people then sectioning them off accordingly. Try – HUMAN

  26. Many thanks to WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE to tell about the case. There is a fine petition about that matter:

    The Scout Association UK: Allow secular scouts to make an affirmation instead of a religious oath.

    Petition by
    S McAlistair

    (Taking into consideration the 100 years old Scout Law, I commentated on the petition: “A Scout is a friend to all and a brother to every other Scout” – so a Scout is a friend to every secular person, too; and a brother or sister to every secular Scout.)

    Best wishes

    Edward von Roy
    (Moenchengladbach, Germany)

  27. Excuse me, I think I need to vomit.

    Are maniac, religious, extremist, fanatics now permitted to so damage a child’s psychological well-being and development as to stoop to such new lows as banning them from normal activities, because of their parents beliefs?

    Since when did common sense and human kindness give way to lunacy and cruelty?

  28. It is interesting that the journalists and others who are outraged by this move on the part of the Scout movement, never mention the well-established fact that Baden Powell was, technically, a Paedophile. He expressed great delight on viewing a schoolmaster friend’s collection of photos of nude boys, and evidently saw nothing wrong with the man having taken these photos. There is no evidence as far as I know that BP ever molested anyone, but still…

    Imagine the reaction of certain British newspapers if such a thing came to light with a present-day scout leader! Minor matters like the wording of the pledge would be forgotten.

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