Religion in Scouting

Religion in Scouting

Religion in Scouting and Guiding is an aspect of the Scout method which has been practiced differently and given different interpretations over the years.

In contrast to the Christian-only Boys' Brigade which was started two decades earlier, Robert Baden-Powell founded the Scout movement as a youth organisation (with boys as 'Scouts' and girls as 'Guides') which was independent of any single faith or religion, yet still held that spirituality and a belief in a higher power were key to the development of young people.

Scouting organisations are free to interpret the method as laid down by the founder. As the modern world has become more secular and as many societies have become more religiously diverse, this has caused misunderstandings and controversies in some of the national member organisations.

Views of religion's place in Scouting

Founder's views

When creating the Scouting method, Baden-Powell was adamant that there was a place for God within it.

In Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell wrote specifically about Christianity, since he was writing for youth groups in the United Kingdom:

We aim for the practice of Christianity in their everyday life and dealings, and not merely the profession of theology on Sundays…Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell, Oxford University Press.]

Indeed, the Scout Promise requires an incoming member to fulfil their "duty to God".

However, the founder's position moved shortly after the Scout movement began to grow rapidly around the world, and his writings and speeches allowed for all religions. He did continue to emphasise that God was a part of a Scout's life:

When asked where religion came into Scouting and Guiding, Baden-Powell replied, It does not come in at all. It is already there. It is a fundamental factor underlying Scouting and Guiding. [ Baden-Powell's position on God and Religion] , [] .]

Though we hold no brief for any one form of belief over another, we see a way to helping all by carrying the same principle into practice as is now being employed in other branches of education… [ Baden-Powell on Religion] , [] .]
Baden-Powell's gravestone bears no cross or other religious symbol. Rather, in addition to the Boy Scout and Girl Guide Badges, it bears a circle with a dot in the centre, the . [ B-P's Grave in Kenya] ]

Current interpretations

Religion and spirituality is still a key part of the Scouting method. The two major world organizations have slightly different interpretations.

The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) states the following in [ Fundamental Principles] ::Under the title "Duty to God", the first of the above-mentioned principles of the Scout Movement is defined as "adherence to spiritual principles, loyalty to the religion that expresses them and acceptance of the duties resulting therefrom". It should be noted that, by contrast to the title, the body of the text does not use the word "God", in order to make it clear that the clause also covers religions which are non-monotheistic, such as Hinduism, or those which do not recognize a personal God, such as Buddhism.

And the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) stated the following in the 21st World Conference in 1972::The essence of Duty to God is the acknowledgement of the necessity for a search for a faith in God, in a Supreme Being, and the acknowledgement of a force higher than man of the highest Spiritual Principles. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2000 | url = | title = Exploring Spirituality - Resource Material for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts | format = PDF | work = | publisher = World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts | accessdate = 2006-12-02]

National organizations may further define it. For instance, the current Religious Policy of The Scout Association of the United Kingdom states that:
:"All Members of the Movement are encouraged to:::*make every effort to progress in the understanding and observance of the Promise to do their best to do their duty to God;::*belong to some religious body;::*carry into daily practice what they profess."cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2005 | url = | title = The Religious Policy | format = | work = Policy, Organisation and Rules | publisher = The Scout Association | accessdate = 2006-12-04]

Many Scout/Guide groups are supported by local religious bodies, including Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Sikh communities. These local groups often have a more strict interpretation on the original writings of Baden-Powell concerning religion. However, since they often belong to national organisations that are not of a specific religion, there are usually groups in the neighbourhood that have a less strict interpretation.

Additionally, some national organisations are aimed at the adherents of a specific religion, but there usually are other Scouting/Guiding organisations within that country that are more open or have a more neutral point of view concerning religion.

The Scout Promise is easily adapted to accommodate these, and other, faiths. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2006 | url = | title = The Promise | format = PDF | work = | publisher = The Scout Association | accessdate = 2006-12-02] For example, in its section on the Girl Scout Promise and Law, the website of the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) includes a note that::The word "God" [in the Promise] can be interpreted in a number of ways, depending on one's spiritual beliefs. When reciting the Girl Scout Promise, it is okay to replace the word "God" with whatever word your spiritual beliefs dictate. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2006 | url =| title = Girl Scout Promise and Law| format = | work = | publisher = Girl Scouts of the USA| accessdate = 2006-12-04] One of the Belgium organisations, FOS Open Scouting, replaced "duty to God" with "loyal to a higher ideal" in their promise [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2006 | url = | title = Wet en Belofte | format = PDF | work = | publisher = FOS Open Scouting | accessdate = 2006-12-06]

Membership requirements

"Duty to God" is a principle of worldwide Scouting and WOSM requires its member National Scout Organizations to reference "duty to God" in their Scout Promises (see WOSM Scout Promise requirements). Scouting associations apply this principle to their membership policies in different ways. There are Scouting associations in some countries, such as France and Denmark, that are segregated on the basis of religious belief.

Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in the United States takes a hard-line position, excluding atheists and agnostics.cite web| url=|work= BSA Legal Issues |title=Duty to God| publisher = Boy Scouts of America |accessdate=2006-12-03] The BSA has come under strong criticism over the past years due to their religious policy and stance against agnostics and atheists:
:"The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognising an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honour 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 favours and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members."cite web| url=|work= BSA Legal Issues |title=Duty to God |accessdate=2006-10-22]

However, The Boy Scouts of America has accepted Buddhist members and units since 1920. Some Theraveda Buddhists do not believe in a supreme being or creator deity. Therefore, these Buddhists can accurately be described as "non-theists" or "atheists."

Scouts Canada

Scouts Canada defines Duty to God broadly in terms of "adherence to spiritual principles" and does not have a policy excluding non-theists.cite web | url = | title = BSA and Religious Belief | publisher = BSA | accessdate = 2006-10-16]

Scouts Australia

In Australia scouting does not actively exclude atheists or agnostics. The Australian Scout promise contains "duty to my god" as opposed to "duty to god" used by many other countries. Religious services on camps are usually held for Catholics and Anglicans, this is because of the religious representation amongst scout and leaders rather than any written rules.

The Scout Association in the United Kingdom

The Scout Association of the United Kingdom is flexible in their interpretation of the writings of Baden-Powell and has so far avoided the controversies facing the Boy Scouts of America. While its leaders are expected to subscribe to a recognised faith and "by their personal example to implement the Association's religious policy"cite web|url=|work= Policy Organisation and Rules The Scout Association |title=Rule 2.1: Responsibilities within the Religious Policy |accessdate=2006-12-04] and "the avowed absence of religious belief is a bar to appointment to a Leadership position",cite web|url=|work= Policy Organisation and Rules | publisher = The Scout Association |title=Chapter 2: Key Policies (footnote)|accessdate=2006-12-05] the final decision on whether a particular adult is accepted as a leader is left with the District Commissioner (or the County or National Commissioner, as appropriate).cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2005 | url = | title = The Procedure For Appointing Adults in the District (rules j, q, t) | format = | work = Policy, Organisation and Rules | publisher = The Scout Association | accessdate = 2006-12-04] There are anecdotal reports of District Commissioners using this discretionary authority to allow prospective leaders (including atheists, agnostics, or pagans) into the organisation if they are satisfied that a leader's personal beliefs will not interfere with the spiritual development of the young people in their charge. However, since such decisions are confidential, these reports are difficult to verify.

In addition to this flexibility with the leadership, the Scout Association allows its younger members to be "searching" for a faith, allowing them to question the meaning of the promise under the direction of their section leader:

"To enable young people to grow into independent adults the Scout Method encourages young people to question what they have been taught. Scouts and Venture Scouts who question God's existence, their own spirituality or the structures and beliefs of any or all religions are simply searching for spiritual understanding. This notion of a search for enlightenment is compatible with belief in most of the world's faiths. It is unacceptable to refuse Membership, or question a young person's suitability to continue to participate fully in a Section, if they express doubts about the meaning of the Promise."cite web|url=|work= Policy Organisation and Rules | publisher = The Scout Association | title = Equal Opportunities Policy: Guidelines with reference to Young People: Religious belief | accessdate=2007-04-02]

Non-aligned Scouting organizations

Approaches toward religion vary considerably in Scouting organizations not aligned with WOSM and WAGGGS. For example, the website of Camp Fire USA states "We are inclusive, welcoming children, youth and adults regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation or other aspect of diversity".cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2004 | url = | title = Statement of Faith| format = | work = About Us | publisher = American Heritage Girls| accessdate = 2006-12-05] Indeed, the AHG was founded by parents who did not agree with the Girl Scouts' decision to allow other words to be substituted for "God" in the Promise (see above) and the GSUSA's official lack of membership policies based on sexual preference.
*make every effort to progress in the understanding and observance of the Promise to do their best to do their duty to God;
*belong to some religious body;
*carry into daily practice what they profess.

If a Scout Group, Explorer Scout Unit or Scout Network is composed of members of several denominations or religions, the young people should be encouraged to attend services of their own form of religion.

United States of America

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) celebrates Scout Sunday and Scout Sabbath in February, [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url = | title = A Scout is Reverent| format = | work = | publisher = BSA| accessdate = 2006-12-06] while the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) celebrates similar holidays, known as Girl Scout Sabbath, Girl Scout Shabbat, and Girl Scout Sunday, in March. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = | url = | title = Girl Scout Days| format = | work = | publisher = GSUSA| accessdate = 2006-12-06]

The Boy Scouts of America requires all scouts to believe in a God or comparable higher power, but currently admits Scouts who are non-theistic Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus from non-theistic sectarian groups. The religious awards of all three faiths are recognized by The Boy Scouts of America. The Girl Scouts of the USA does not have any requirement of faith or belief, and admits girls of any or no religious belief or doctrine, regardless of the presence or absence of belief in a God or comparable higher power.

Both organizations require their members to recite a pledge that includes a reference to God; the BSA pledge requires a commitment to do their "duty to God", while the GSUSA pledge asks girls "to serve God". However, while GSUSA allows the elimination or substitution of "God" with an alternate word that represents a scout's beliefs, BSA does not.

Boy Scouts of America

In Cub Scouting, Cub Scouts working on their Bear rank must complete a requirement about their faith. Members of the BSA's Scouting programs are eligible to work on their faith's religious emblem.

Unitarian Universalist Association controversy

Currently, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has been the only religious emblems program, Religion in Life, to lose its BSA recognition. In 1992, the UUA stated its opposition to the BSA's policies on homosexuals, atheists, and agnostics; and in 1993, the UUA updated the Religion in Life program to include criticism of the BSA policies. [cite web |url= |title=The Boy Scouts, a Battle and the Meaning of Faith |accessdate=2007-05-09 |author=Gustav Niebuhr |authorlink= |coauthors= |date= 1999-05-22|format= |work= |publisher=New York Times |pages= |language= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= ] In 1998, the BSA withdrew recognition of the Religion in Life program, stating that such information was incompatible with BSA programs. The UUA removed the material from their curriculum and the BSA renewed their recognition of the program. When the BSA found that the UUA was issuing supplemental material with the Religion in Life workbooks that included statements critical of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or personal religious viewpoint, the BSA's recognition was again withdrawn. [cite journal |last=Isaacson |first=Eric Alan |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2007 |month= |title=Traditional Values, or a New Tradition of Prejudice? The Boy Scouts of America vs. the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations |journal=George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal |volume=17 |issue=1 |pages= |id= |url= |accessdate=2007-06-24 |quote= ]

International religious bodies in Scouting and Guiding

A number of religions and denominations have formed international organizations within Scouting and Guiding that should further the spiritual development of their adherents. Most of these organizations employ two types of membership: individual and organizational.

The religious organizations include:
* International Union of Muslim Scouts (IUMS)
* International Conference of Catholic Scouts [ (ICCS)]
* International Catholic Conference of Guiding (ICCG)
* World Buddhist Scout Brotherhood (WBSB)
* International Forum of Jewish Scouts [ (IFJS)]
* International Link of Orthodox Christian Scouts [ (DESMOS)]
* Council of Protestants in Guiding and Scouting (CPGS)
* "Won"-Buddhism Scouts

ICCS, DESMOS, IUMS and Won-Buddhism Scouts enjoy consultative status with the World Scout Committee, ICCG and CCGS with WAGGGS. The status of WBSB, IFJS and CPGS with WOSM is pending.

A number of non-religious associations, mainly from French speaking countries, formed in 1996 the Union Internationale des Associations Scoutes-Guides Pluralistes/Laïques (UIPL; International Union of pluralist/secular Scout and Guide associations).

The Friends Committee on Scouting is a religious body of the Religious Society of Friends and serves Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, Scouts Canada, Girl Guides of Canada and Campfire USA.

ee also

*Scout prayer
*Scouts' Day
*Scouting controversy and conflict
*Scout vespers


External links

* [ Spiritual Dimension] - WOSM
* [ Scouting, and Spiritual Development] - WOSM
* [ Exploring Spirituality - Introduction & Modules 1-4] [ - 5-9] [ - 10] - WAGGGS
* [ Religious Directory] - UISGE-FSE

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