Religion in Scouting

From ScoutWiki, For Everyone, Everywhere involved with Scouting and Guiding...
Jump to navigation Jump to search


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 materialisticTemplate:Verify source, and as many societies have become more religiously diverse, this has caused misunderstandings and controversies in some of the national member organisations.

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…[1]

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.[2]

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…[3]

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 trail sign for "Going home" / "I have gone home":   I have gone home.[4]

Historical practice


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.[5]

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."[6]

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.[7] For example, in its section on the Girl Scout Promise and Law, the website of the Girl Scouts of the USA 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.[8]

One of the Belgium organisations, FOS Open Scouting, replaced "duty to God" with "loyal to a higher ideal" in their promise [9]

Membership requirements and principles

"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) take a hard-line position, excluding atheists and agnostics.[10] 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."[11]

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.[12]

The Scout Association of 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"[13] and "the avowed absence of religious belief is a bar to appointment to a Leadership position"[14], 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).[15] 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.

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" [16]. On the other hand, the American Heritage Girls are explicitly Christian and require all adult leaders to adhere to a specific Statement of Faith[17]. 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 [18].


Current Practices

Scout groups handle religious practices in different ways.

Both the BSA and the GSUSA celebrate Scout Sunday and Scout Sabbath in February (BSA)[19] and March (GSUSA)[20].

Religious Merit Badges

Some Scouting organisations have many obligatorily religious merit badges[21] or recognise religious programs run by an other organisations, like the religious emblems programs in the United States, as a way of fulfilling a requirement for a rank. Other Scouting organisations have a single voluntary religious merit badge or none.[22] Template:Stubsection

Practice of national member organizations


In Slovenia, "Zveza tabornikov Slovenije" (literally: Association of campers), co-titled: "National scouting organisation" is a member of WOSM. The guiding principles include plurality, openness to members without prejudice to birth, nationality, religion or belief; provided the member abides by the principles of pacifism, personal freedom, high moral and ethical principles and principles of the international scouting movement. In the oath the reference to God is replaced with "acceptance and development of Spiritual reality". No religious merit badges are in use.

A separate organization, "Združenje slovenskih katoliških skavtinj in skavtov", "Association of Catholic Girl Scouts and Scouts", actively practices the Catholic religion in its ranks. This organization is a member of WAGGGS. By agreement, the two organizations have a common highest level body and reciprocally provide to their members the benefits of membership in the two international organizations.


See also


  1. Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell, Oxford University Press.
  2. Baden-Powell's position on God and Religion,
  3. Baden-Powell on Religion,
  4. B-P's Grave in Kenya
  5. "Exploring Spirituality - Resource Material for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts" (89KBPDF). World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. 2000. Retrieved 2006-12-02. 
  6. "The Religious Policy". Policy, Organisation and Rules. The Scout Association. 2005. Retrieved 2006-12-04. 
  7. "The Promise" (107KBPDF). The Scout Association. 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-02. 
  8. "Girl Scout Promise and Law". Girl Scouts of the USA. 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-04. 
  9. "Wet en Belofte" (11KBPDF). FOS Open Scouting. 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  10. "Duty to God". BSA Legal Issues. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved 2006-12-03. 
  11. "Duty to God". BSA Legal Issues. Retrieved 2006-10-22. 
  12. "BSA and Religious Belief". BSA Retrieved 2006-10-16. 
  13. "Rule 2.1: Responsibilities within the Religious Policy". Policy Organisation and Rules The Scout Association. Retrieved 2006-12-04. 
  14. "Chapter 2: Key Policies (footnote)". Policy Organisation and Rules The Scout Association. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  15. "The Procedure For Appointing Adults in the District (rules j, q, t)". Policy, Organisation and Rules. The Scout Association. 2005. Retrieved 2006-12-04. 
  16. "Core Values". All About Us. Camp Fire USA. 2005. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  17. "Statement of Faith". About Us. American Heritage Girls. 2004. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  18. "Some Unhappy with Girl Scouts Form New Group". Associated Press. 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  19. "A Scout is Reverent". BSA. Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  20. "Girl Scout Days". GSUSA. Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  21. "badges vie chretienne". Guides et Scouts d’Europe. Retrieved 2006-12-08. 
  22. "insignes voor de Scouts". Scouting Nederland. Retrieved 2006-12-08. 

External links