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For Scouts, it has been as much a part of their movement as jamborees, woggles and the three-fingered salute. Now, after a century, the Scout Association has ditched its traditional pledge of loyalty “to God and to the Queen” in favour of a series of multicultural options.
Muslim Scouts can opt to swear to Allah, while atheists can drop God altogether and budding republicans can pledge themselves to the state rather than the monarch.
The pledge is taken by all Scouts on joining the movement, which was established in 1907. The new variations are intended to reflect the growing diversity of Britain.
They represent a rejection of the “muscular Christianity” and love of monarchy espoused by Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting.
The changes have horrified some prominent former Scouts. Stephen Pound, the Labour MP and chairman of the all-party parliamentary Scout group, called the changes “profoundly retrograde, uncalled for and potentially extremely divisive”.
The current pledge, based on that written by Baden-Powell, states: “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.”
Under new guidelines issued to Scout leaders, Muslim Scouts — as well as Beavers and Cubs, the groups to which younger boys belong — can pledge their duty to Allah and Hindu Scouts to their Dharma. Atheists can promise to live life in “good moral standing”.
In addition, children who are not British but live here can promise to do their duty to “the country in which I am now living” instead of promising allegiance to the Queen.
For republican recruits, there is the option of pledging “duty to the state and the laws of the state”. Members whose beliefs are not covered by any of the published alternatives can use other forms of wording agreed between their parents and the leader of their Scout group.
“Scouting is available to all faiths and, therefore, must take account of the different religious obligations of its members,” the new guidelines state.
“To meet these circumstances, there are different forms of the Beaver Scout, Cub Scout and Scout promise that can be made, allowing for the individual’s obligations while upholding the essential spirit of the promise.
“The phrase ‘to love God’ and ‘duty to God’ implies belief in a supreme being and the acceptance of divine guidance and therefore the word ‘God’ can be replaced by ‘Allah’, ‘my Dharma’ or others as appropriate to suit the faith or religion of the individual concerned.”
It is hoped the shift in policy will help to rid the association of its reputation for being mainly white, middle-class and Christian. The Girl Guides changed their pledge from “God” to “my God” more than a decade ago.
Baden-Powell was inspired to found the Scouts after being impressed with the initiative shown by boys during the siege of the South African town of Mafeking in 1899-1900 during the Boer war. His first experimental camp was held on Brownsea Island off Poole in Dorset in 1907.
“There is a vast reserve of loyal patriotism and Christian spirit lying dormant in our nation today,” he wrote in his handbook, Scouting for Boys, published in 1908.
(Posted on June 15, 2005)