Britain's Scouts to consult on atheist membership

Britain's Scouts could welcome atheists into their ranks for the first time in 105 years as they seek to increase diversity, the association said Tuesday.

  • Published: 4/12/2012 at 09:47 AM
  • Newspaper section: news

File photo shows Scouts standing around a parachute marked with the Scouts emblem on Brownsea Island off the south coast of England. Britain's Scouts could welcome atheists into their ranks for the first time in 105 years as they seek to increase diversity, the association said Tuesday.

The movement, led by British TV adventurer Bear Grylls, is launching a consultation to find out if its members would support an alternative version of the Scout Promise for new members who are unable to pledge a "duty to God".

For more than four decades, there have been alternative versions of the Scout Promise for religious groups including Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.

This is the first time the youth movement has consulted on a pledge for atheists.

"We are a values-based movement and exploring faith and religion will remain a key element of the Scouting programme. That will not change," said Wayne Bulpitt, the association's chief commissioner in Britain.

"However, throughout our 105-year history, we have continued to evolve so that we remain relevant to communities across the UK.

"We do that by regularly seeking the views of our members and we will use the information gathered by the consultation to help shape the future of scouting for the coming years."

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, which has campaigned for the right of atheists to join the Scouts, said: "This is a move in the right direction.

"By adjusting their promise to include people without a religious belief, the Scouts will bring themselves in line with the reality of 21st century Britain, where more than two-thirds of young people say they have no religious belief."

Britain's Scout Association is enjoying a surge in popularity, with more than 525,000 members this year, including youths aged 6-25 and adult volunteers, up from nearly 445,000 members in 2005.

Since 2002 female membership has increased by 69 percent, and more than 50 Scout groups have opened that cater to young people mainly from Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities.

Around the world, Scouting boasts more than 31 million members.

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