Girl guides drop allegiance to God (but keep it to the Queen)

June 20, 2013 • 8:47 am

Tuesday’s Telegraph has some heartening news from the ever-secularizing United Kingdom: the Girl Guides (the UK equivalent of the American Girl Scouts) have dropped their promises, when being sworn in, to “loving God” and “serving my country.” This also appears to hold for the nascent Girl Guides, known in both the US and UK as “Brownies.” Girl Guides have been around for over a century, and at last they’re going godless:

In one of the biggest changes in the organisation’s 103-year history, the promise to “love my God” is to be replaced with a more individualistic pledge to “be true to myself” and to “develop my beliefs”.

And a patriotic commitment to serving their country is to become one to the “community” in the oath taken by Brownies and Guides when they join the organisation.

But in a consultation which attracted almost 44,000 responses Guides made clear that they wanted to retain a public expression of allegiance to the Queen, who is also their patron.

A vow to “help other people” and to “do my best” are also to remain in the new promise, which will take effect from September.

It is not the first time that the organisation, founded in 1909 under the leadership of Agnes Baden-Powell, sister of Robert Baden-Powell, the creator of the Scouting movement, has altered the wording of its traditional promise over the last century but it is by far the most radical change.

The rethink followed the appointment of the group’s new chief executive, Julie Bentley, the former head of The Family Planning Association, who described the Guides as “the ultimate feminist organisation”.

I suspect there are some who will take issue with the last sentence.

But it’s all good, even though allegiance to the monarchy—indeed, the monarchy itself—is outmoded and should be dropped as well.

Before making this decision, the organization consulted with the Girl Guides themselves, and one outspoken young atheist weighed in:

Among responses to the consultation, one young girl wrote that she felt like she was “lying to the Brownies” by making a promise to a God in whom she did not believe.

But of course there’s the usual dissent:

Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society, said: “By omitting any explicit mention of God or religion the Guide Association has grasped the opportunity to make itself truly inclusive and relevant to the reality of 21st century Britain.

“The new secular promise can now be meaningful and relevant to all guides and potential leaders, whatever their beliefs – and sends a clear signal that Girlguiding is equally welcoming to all girls.”

But Andrea Williams of Christian Concern said: “It sounds like jargon from a consumerist self-help manual completely at odds with the true ethos of the Guiding organisation which was set up to encourage belief in God and a corporate identity, not about individualism but to understand what it really is to be part of a community.”

Of course, the Girl Scouts in America must still swear fealty to an invisible deity. One of their websites makes this clear:

2.      Has Girl Scouts removed the word “God” from the Girl Scout Promise?

The Girl Scout Promise contains the word “God”.  According to the Girl Scout Constitution, “The motivating force in Girl Scouting is spiritual.  The ways in which members identify and fulfill their spiritual beliefs are personal and private.”

The Girl Scout Promise is as follows:

On my honor, I will try:

To serve God and my country,

To help people at all times,

And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

The Boy Scouts in the U.S. also continue to ban atheists, or at least force new Scouts to swear allegiance to God. And this despite their recent decision that gays could now be Scouts.

It’s time for America to follow the UK lead and drop the allegiance-to-God business. You can be a good Scout without God.

Uniforms_1985
A Girl Guide (l.) and a Brownie, showing off their uniforms and allegiance to Elizabeth Regina. Photo courtesy of Girl Guides of Canada.

h/t: Pyers

67 thoughts on “Girl guides drop allegiance to God (but keep it to the Queen)

  1. It’s about time. I didn’t join scouts or brownies because of the god clauses when I was a kid but I also hated the idea of hanging around with a just a bunch of girls and to this day I question gender separation in these activities. I think it encourages “otherness” that carries on later in life.

  2. So the older girls give a three finger salute, the younger girls give a two finger salute, and the toddlers…

  3. The UK Scouts are holding a similar consultation and may soon make the same change.

    What will be interesting is how the world bodies (WOSM and WAGGS) then react, since currently they require “God” oaths.

    (Oh, and Americans always get too worked up about kings and queens. The queen is a symbol of the state, and declaring loyalty to her is not so much to her person as to the state.)

    1. “Oh, and Americans always get too worked up about kings and queens. The queen is a symbol of the state, and declaring loyalty to her is not so much to her person as to the state.”

      That’s quite right. It’s done in much the same spirit as the ancient Romans did when they sacrificed to the genius of the Emperor. I doubt whether many of them thought that the current Caesar was actually a god in the same sense as Jupiter, Mars and the rest of the traditional deities, it was just a public show of loyalty to the state, as exemplified by its central figure. Hence why they gave the early Christians such a hard time when they refused to make such a sacrifice – it was seen as an act of political disloyalty, not a theological disagreement (something which the Romans cared next to nothing about).

    2. Only WAGGGS is the world body for GirlGuiding in the UK (or the Girl Scouts of the USA) or for the Canadian Guides or Australian Guides. They haven’t said anything when the Girl Scouts of the USA allowed wording change for God nearly 20 years ago or when Canada and Australia dropped the word ‘God’. WAGGGS hasn’t complained because the Sri Lanka Guides and Thai Guides don’t have God (they have religion instead since both are Buddhist majority countries) Note the rules don’t require ‘God’ but rather ‘Duty to God’ to be expressed but the wording is up to the national organization and duty to God is defined broadly (WOSM the other world organization, originally male only and to which the Boy Scouts of America belong, is explicit that it is not a requirement to believe in a God [the BSA has a somewhat narrower definition]). Note the promise still has “To be true to myself and develop my beliefs” which does fulfill the ‘duty to God’ requirement.

      I suspect the Queen will remain in the UK Guide promise until she dies; she was a Girl Guide and later a Ranger herself and has been patron of the organization for about 60 years so is respected for that by many in the organization over and above being the monarch.

      Oddly enough atheists could belong to the Guides though somewhat second class because they don’t actually have a formal requirement that you have to say the promise except for some of the highest levels for youth and for adult leaders and assistant leaders (unit helpers and other adult volunteers are exempt]. However the Guides are desperate for adult leaders (they estimate about 50,000 girls would like to join but can’t) and know that many of their unit helpers would like to become leaders but couldn’t because they honestly couldn’t make the promise (now at least the atheists if not the republicans can).

    3. “Oh, and Americans always get too worked up about kings and queens. The queen is a symbol of the state, and declaring loyalty to her is not so much to her person as to the state.”

      Well, we did have this little disagreement with George III R a while back.

  4. This is all good except your comments regarding our monarchy! Being a Brit I wish to protect them I can criticise them but I’ll argue against any foreign criticism. Probably the same for you and your constitution!

    I think it’s just a bit of basic tribalism mixed with a dose of altruism!

    1. Agreed! Nothing whatsoever wrong with expressing loyalty to the Queen. It demonstrates the good sentiment that you can have and express a loyalty to someone who represents something larger than oneself, i.e. showing a bit of national pride. =)

      And, unlike God, she does exist!

    2. Sorry, but I do hate your monarchy with a passion.
      In all honesty: there is nothing noble or good in the history of monarchies and no one should ever declare loyalty to the state or the monarchy.

      Reality matters. Humans do, but certainly not borders and such divisive concepts.

      1. Why hate the British monarchy with passion? What a waste of passion! As it is today, it is completely innocuous and does no harm to anyone. It’s about heritage and national identity. I don’t know why it bothers Americans that most Brits don’t wish to do away with it.

        1. Don’t presume to speak for all British people. I’m among a growing number of people who totally agree with my American friend who hates monarchy with a passion. It is not a harmless institution – the upkeep of this bunch of inbred work-shy moochers costs the taxpayer a fortune. The Queen is the richest woman in the world in her own right, owning palaces and paintings that should, by rights, be the property of the state. It’s equally ridiculous to say they bring in money we wouldn’t otherwise have – ever been to Versailles? Not a sponging ‘royal’ in sight and yet it’s still packed with tourists from dawn to dusk. I just hope I live long enough to see the UK shake off its collective forelock-tugging delusion and come to its long overdue senses.

  5. It’s been more than 60 years since I was a Brownie/Girl Scout, but I remember, “On my honor I will do my duty to god and my country, to help people at all times, and . . .” I don’t remember the last line “obey the girl scout laws?” Hmmm. What are they?

    1. “On my honor, I will try, to serve God, and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law.”

      At least when I was a scout in the early 1990s. And, yes, I rattled that off without really thinking about it.

    2. 40 years since Cub Scouthood (up Alaska-way), but I remember our vows quite distinctly:

      “I, (say your name), promise…
      to do my duty, to do my best,
      to help the Girl Scouts get undressed.
      …throw ol’ ladies in front of cars,
      and smoke some big fat cheap cigars.”

      Yes, we were bad little boys.

      1. It also goes without saying that our pledge lacked a diety. However, I don’t think this was a causative factor in our being little miscreants. We didn’t get enough sun. Yeah… that was it.

      2. Yeah, me and my gang wwre really “jack” boy scouts (in the sense of jack Mormons in the US west: Mormon in name and heritage but drinking, smoking, co-habiting lechers.)

        We were in the Boy Scouts only to have the chance to go camping and hang out with a bunch of like-minded little devils. By the time I was in middle school (aged 13 or 14) we were bringing bottles of vodka on camp-outs. How I didn’t wreck my brains in those days, I’ll never know. Hey, wait …

  6. The Queen is a sort of god person though – all that annointing cannot be escaped & she takes her coronation vows very seriously it is said.

  7. As noted by folks above, IMHO the Queen is to Britain something like the flag is to the US. So USers, just think of her as a human flag.

    1. But it is quite controversial here how we should treat our flag. So, should we allow queen burning in the public square?

      1. A knotty question indeed.

        And all bets are off once Chuck becomes king.

        We all know what happened to the first King Charles.

  8. Swearing allegiance to the Queen is the way that patriots in the UK swear allegiance to their nation, just as in the US people swear allegiance to the flag and the constitution for which it stands. In both cases it is symbolic, and swearing allegiance to a piece of cloth might well seem as incongruous as swearing allegiance to a monarch who represents the nation and its laws.

    1. As a Brit living in America, I was explaining something similar to a friend regarding our national anthem. I explained that the Queen was symbolic, just as the Americans sing an anthem about a flag which is also symbolic. “But what will happen when the Queen dies and Charles becomes king?” she asked. When I said that we would simply sing “God save the King” instead of “Queen”, she was utterly dumbfounded!

    2. As another Brit in the US I’d just like to agree with Eric and Gareth – and indeed with the previous comment above Eric from TJR. Stating loyalty to the crown is no different from the omnipresent and oft modified pledge of allegiance – except that the Brits do it much less frequently

      1. Yes, for some reason we Brits (or at least the English) don’t feel the need to rally round the flag. I don’t know whether it’s indifference, confidence or ignorance.

            1. I like our flag… but to be honest I think I prefer the Pearson Pennant. It was one of the many, many, MANY candidates for our new flag back in the 60s.

              It had blue for the sidebars and a set of three maple leaves growing from one branch in the center. The

              You can see it(and a few of the other major contenders) @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Canadian_Flag_Debate

              Our current one is more than fine though.

      1. There is no easy direct comparison, but as you have suggested, the cost of housing and protecting the head of state in the US, including entertaining foreign diplomats, etc. is probably greater than the cost to the UK of maintaining our head of state. A fairer comparison would be to add together the cost of maintaining the UK monarchy and the prime minister, and compare that with the cost of maintain the POTUS.

        From Miranda Gold:

        work-shy moochers

        This annoys me. In her mid eighties, she has been working for over sixty years, to a more punishing schedule than I could ever have managed.

  9. There are many of us in the UK who can’t stand the queen and her whole parasitic clan leeching off the country. They are a very expensive “symbol” that we would be much better off without.

    1. Except that they’re not that expensive, compared to the amount many republics spend on their head of state, and the Royal Family actually recoup more than they cost in tourist bucks (particularly from Americans). They also do a grand job in their “day job” of supporting many charities across the nation.

      1. Thank you Coel.

        I’d also like to add that you don’t see many monarchs parachuting out of a helicopter with James Bond.

        There are also many intangible benefits with the Commonwealth which helps to at least keep disparate peoples talking rather than fighting.

        1. You think that was really her? I’ve been wondering about it ever since. Don’t you think it was a stunt double?

      2. Do you have evidence that people visit to see the queen et al. and not just London and its sights?

        The Austrian monarchy also attracts many tourists, except all our kings & queens are long dead.

  10. Don’t be too hard on the Girl Scouts of America. While they’ve got that wishy-washy ‘spritual’ phrase on that website, the girls actually aren’t required to “wear fealty to an invisible deity”. Here’s the appropriate page from our local Girl Scout council – the Texas and Oklahoma Plains, no less:

    Girl Scout Mission, Promise, and Law

    There’s an asterisk right after the word “God”, with the following note at the the bottom of the page:

    *Girl Scouts makes no attempt to define or interpret the word “God” in the Girl Scout Promise. We look to individual members to establish for themselves the nature of their spiritual beliefs. When making the Girl Scout Promise, individuals may substitute wording appropriate to their own spiritual beliefs for the word “God.”

    In fact, when my daughter was involved with Girl Scouts, their openness and inclusiveness was one of the things that really impressed me. A few years ago when there was a minor kerfuffle when a representative of the Indana House of Representatives refused to support a resolution recognizing the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary, the Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana / Michiana released a statement, What We Stand For (pdf). Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from that statement.

    GSNI-M remains dedicated to our values of creating an accepting environment where girls build leadership skills necessary for success, supported by our committed staff and dedicated volunteers. We believe that Girl Scouting is the place to develop moral values, strong ethics, and a social conscience which will serve girls throughout their lives.

    …if the child is recognized by the family and school/community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, then Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana – Michiana is an organization that can server her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe.

    Yes. Girl Scouting supports girls from all backgrounds and beliefs. While we are a secular organization that refrains from teaching religious or spiritual beliefs or practices, we believe that the motivating force in Girl Scouting is a spiritual one, and we greatly value our longstanding partnerships with religious organizations across many faiths that share the values of the Girl Scout Promise and Law.

  11. “But it’s all good, even though allegiance to the monarchy—indeed, the monarchy itself—is outmoded and should be dropped as well.”

    I think constitutional monarchy wins hands down over republicanism, and the flagidolatry and national anthemidolatry that prevails in the US. I’m not fond of the queen and her brood but I like the system, which I think works well.

    1. Agreed. As a Brit, I find it a bit strange when Americans deride our constitutional monarchy as “outmoded”, despite the fact that the monarch is merely a symbolic figurehead and our political system is actually very flexible and adaptable over time (e.g. the rapid devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland post-1997, which might even lead to total independence for Scotland after next year’s referendum).

      Meanwhile, in the supposedly “modern” republic on the opposite side of the pond, attempting to bring about change on almost any major issue bogs down in arguments about what a bunch of 18th-century slaveowners in powdered wigs (aka “The Founding Fathers”) REALLY meant when they drafted the constitution.

      1. Well, what they REALLY meant was that only wealthy, WHITE, land-owning MEN (smartie-pantses like us) should be in charge (and be able to vote.)

        Fortunately, they did allow a mechanism to change the Constitution, which has been done 17 times since the original 10 amendments (not always intelligently, I’ll grant you.)

  12. Almost a year ago, Girl Guides Australia made a similar change: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-05/girl-guides-drop-queen-god-from-promise/4113022

    In the wake of this, I sent a message to GirlGuiding New Zealand, asking if they would consider making a similar change. Here is the message I sent:

    “To whom it may concern,

    I was rather shocked to discover recently that your organisation includes in its promise (the recitation of which is apparently a requirement for membership) the words “with the help of my God”. While I commend the fact that, right after mentioning this on your site, it is specified that members of other religions may alter the wording (http://www.girlguidingnz.org.nz/what-we-do/promise-law/) to better suit their specific religion, I’m rather concerned that this seems intended to either discriminate against or actively discourage irreligiosity and atheism in your membership.

    After the recent news that Girl Guides Australia have removed (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-05/girl-guides-drop-queen-god-from-promise/4113022) any compulsory mention of “God” from their Guide Promise, I’m hopeful that you might follow in their exemplary footsteps. I’ve never been given any other reason to believe that your organisation might harbour such an inappropriate agenda, and as such I fully expect that this is simply an anachronistic artifact from an old tradition. I thought I might suggest that, in light of the change made by Girl Guides Australia, you might consider that it is time for your organisation to make a similar change.

    Sincerely,
    Mark Hanna”

    Here is the message I received, on the 7th of July 2012 from Susan Coleman, their Chief Executive:

    “Dear Mr Hanna

    Thank you for your email regarding the inclusion of the words “with the help of my god” in the GirlGuiding New Zealand promise.

    GirlGuiding New Zealand, Nga Kohine Whakamahiri o Aotearoa, is an organisation for girls and young women aged 5 to 18 years old, whatever their race, religion, ethnicity or background and there is no intention of discriminating against or discouraging any personal belief. The objectives of the organisation include the development of the whole girl, promoting self-confidence and growth through fun, friendship and learning experiences in life-skills, leadership and decision-making in a safe supportive environment. An individual’s beliefs, family cultures and circumstances are respected and Guiding embraces all aspects of the diversity of New Zealand society.

    At this time, there is no intention to consider changing our promise.

    Regards
    Susan Coleman”

    1. Sounds like a reply from a politician – here is just a reiteration of our policies and beliefs and I won’t bother addressing your concern.

      I like how she said that they don’t intend to discriminate then ends with we aren’t changing anything…..so if it is brought up to you that you are discriminating then you say you aren’t changing it…you’re now intentionally discriminating. Hilarious.

      Looks like Canada has a more sensible pledge now since 2010 (from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_Guides_of_Canada)

      I promise to do my best,
      To be true to myself, my beliefs, and Canada.
      I will take action for a better world
      And respect the Guiding Law.

  13. I remember that when in the Scouts I treated the Boy Scout Oath the same as the Pledge of Allegiance. At the time I just thought that the god part was metaphorical like the standing witches in the Pledge (when quite little I thought it was “. . . for witches stand . . .”). 😉

    1. Ha ha, I thought the “sons” in the Canadian anthem were “suns” so it was something about the various stars. 😀

  14. I can’t quite see the point about blasting our Monarch. It is quite different to the oath to god. For a start, you can see and touch her – she is there and does exist. And as some have mentioned, she is a representation of the state, not some central dictator. Above all, unlike god, nothing is claimed beyond this about the monarch, except the little annoying “God save the queen” and it is the “god” bit that is a problem.

      1. And you Americans provide wonderful theatre for loyal subjects of Her Majesty like us. The perpetual three way gridlock between the House, Senate and President come to mind, as does Monica and Bill… 🙂

  15. Great news that promises to a “loving God” have been dropped.

    Less pleasing is that references to “serving my country” have also been dropped, and I admit to being rather dismayed by the comment “…the monarchy itself—is outmoded and should be dropped as well.”

    Why an American – who already lives in a republic – would want Britain to become one too is beyond me. I couldn’t care less whether the USA has a monarchy or not. Each to his own.

    Unlike God, there is empirical evidence that the monarchy exists! While everyone is entitled to their opinion, a willingness to conflate these two issues is suggestive of a left-wing revolutionary agenda rather than a scientific one.

    My atheism is based on logic rather than a desire to destroy centuries old traditions just for the sake of it. I can still say “God save the Queen” as a statement of support without actually believing a supernatural being will come to her aid. I happen to like living in a monarchy as the alternative is to choose your representatives by election or appointment – and look what kind of self-aggrandising con-artists we end up with using that approach!

  16. > “It’s time for America to follow the UK lead and drop the allegiance-to-God business.”

    On behalf of the FSM (bless His Noodly Majesty) I object to such changes.

    May His Sauce continue to succor us all.

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