Scouting controversy and conflict

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Scouting is a worldwide youth movement aimed at developing young people physically, mentally and spiritually, so that they may play a constructive role in society. Since its inception in 1907, the Scout Movement has spread from the United Kingdom to 216 countries and territories around the world.

Scouting has sometimes become entangled in social controversies such as the civil rights struggle in the American South and in nationalist resistance movements in India. Scouting was introduced to Africa by British officials as an instrument of colonial authority but became a subversive challenge to the legitimacy of the British Empire as Scouting fostered solidarity amongst African Scouts.[1] There are also controversies and challenges within the Scout Movement itself such as current efforts to turn Scouts Canada into a democratic organization. This article discusses historical and contemporary Scouting controversies and difficulties, with examples from various countries.

Breakaway Scouting organizations

Over the years, Scouting organizations have broken away from the mainstream Scout Movement, which is now served by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM). This sometimes results from groups or individuals who refuse to follow the original ideals of Scouting but still desire to participate in Scout-like activities. There is also a Traditional Scouting movement that rejects the world-wide trend to "modernize" Scouting in order to appeal to more youths and supports a back to basics effort to return to Baden-Powell's model of Scouting.

See also


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, Baden-Powell founded the Scout movement as a youth organization (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 organizations are free to interpret the method as laid down by the founder. As the modern world has become more secular and materialistic, and as many societies have become more religiously diverse, this has caused misunderstandings and controversies in some of the national member organizations. There are Scouting associations in some countries, such as France and Denmark, that are segregated on the basis of religious belief.


In 1933 some Scout groups broke away from the national Boy Scout organization De Nederlandse Padvinders (NPV, Netherlands Pathfinders) to form the Padvinders Vereniging Nederland (PVN, Pathfinder Association of the Netherlands), because difficulties concerning the Scout Promise arose. The problem was that boys who did not recognize a god still had to promise "To do my duty to God" and the groups were concerned that this could turn those boys into hypocrites. A Roman Catholic organization was founded in 1938, the Katholieke Verkenners (KV, Catholic Scouts) because the Dutch Roman Catholic bishops decided that Catholic youth cannot be under the control of an association whose governing board was not all Catholic. The NPV and the PVN almost reunited in 1940. All Dutch Scout and Guide organizations merged in 1973 into Scouting Nederland (SN).

The Dutch Scout Promise is one of the few in the world where the reference to God is optional as it has been granted an exception under WOSM guidelines.

Governmental banning of Scouting

Scouting has been banned in certain nations and remains banned in some of them. Scouting was banned in nearly all Communist countries, most Fascist countries, and some countries with totalitarian regimes such as Afghanistan under the Taliban, Malawi and Iran. Banning has caused Scouting to go underground in countries such as Poland, Franco's Spain, and Yugoslavia. The USSR banned Scouting in 1922, creating a separate Young Pioneer organization of the Soviet Union, which gave birth to the Pioneer Movement, still existing in some fashion in the People's Republic of China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and Tajikistan.

Prior to World War II, Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, and Romania disbanded Scouting. Instead, Germany created the Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth) organization; Mussolini had a fascist youth organization, the Balilla; and Romania under the Iron Guard had the Străjeria.

Currently, there are no externally recognized Scouting organizations in Cuba, North Korea, Laos, Myanmar, and the People's Republic of China (except for the special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau).


In 1908, Baden-Powell's book Scouting for Boys came out in Russia by the order of Tsar Nicholas II. In 1909, the first Russian Scout troop was organized and in 1914, a society called Russian Scout, was established. Scouting spread rapidly across Russia and into Siberia.

After the October Revolution of 1917 and during the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1921, most of the Scoutmasters and many Scouts fought in the ranks of the White Army and interventionists against the Red Army. Some Scouts took the Bolsheviks' side, which would lead to the establishment of ideologically-altered Scoutlike organizations, such as ЮК (Юные Коммунисты, or young communists; pronounced as yuk) and others.

Between 1918 and 1920, the second, third, and fourth All-Russian Congresses of the Russian Union of the Communist Youth decided to eradicate the Scout movement and create an organization of the communist type that would take youth under its umbrella. In 1922, the second All-Russian Komsomol Conference decided to create Pioneer units all over the country; these units were united later that year as the Young Pioneer organization of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union (USSR), which included Russia, was established in 1922 and dissolved in 1991. In 1990, the Russian Congress of People's Deputies with Boris Yeltsin as its chairman declared Russia's sovereignty over its territory.

The Young Pioneer organization was broken up in 1990 and the same year the Scout Movement began to reemerge when relaxation of government restrictions allowed youth organizations to be formed to fill the void left by the Pioneers, with various factions competing for recognition. Some former Pioneer leaders have formed Scout groups and there is some controversy as to their motivations in doing so (see Eurasian Scout Region controversies).

The Russian Association of Scouts/Navigators is now a member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM). It is co-educational and has 13,920 members as of 2004.

Exclusion of Scouting associations from international organizations

Most national Scouting associations have created international Scouting organizations to set standards for and to coordinate activities amongst member associations. There are at least six international organizations that serve several hundred national associations around the world. The largest international Scouting organization is the World Organization of the Scout Movement, founded in 1920. Scouting associations have been excluded or expelled from international Scouting organizations for various reasons.


Iraq was one of the first Arab nations to embrace the Scouting movement, launching its program in 1921, just two years after the League of Nations had created the country out of the old Ottoman Empire. Iraq was a member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement from 1922 to 1940, and again from 1956 to 1999.

After the Baath Party took control in 1968 and especially after Saddam Hussein seized power in 1979, youth groups were retooled to serve the state. One replacement program, Saddam's Cubs, offered "summer camps" where 10 to 15 year-old boys endured 14-hour days filled with hand-to-hand fighting drills. In 1990, during the period when the Iraq Boy Scouts and Girl Guides Council was recognized by WOSM, there were 12,000 Scouts, however by 1999, Iraq had been expelled from the WOSM.

An Iraqi Scouts Initiative committee was formed by Americans in 2004 to formally re-establish a legal, recognized, and fully functioning Scouting program in Iraq. Since then, the movement has been taken over by Iraqis and is now run exclusively by them.

The Scout program is open to boys and girls of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and allows for local nuances to shape various regional program options. Iraqi Scouts are involved in community service such as helping police with traffic control, giving first aid, cultivating cotton, planting trees and helping during natural disasters. A National Iraqi Scouting Headquarters is envisioned for Baghdad and five national Scout camps are also planned.

Exclusion of individuals from membership

There is no controversy that certain people should be excluded from Scouting membership, such as people who have committed serious crimes, but there is controversy regarding the exclusion of others who have done no wrong and wish to participate in Scouting activities.

Atheists and agnostics

"Duty to God" is a principle of Scouting worldwide, though it is applied differently among countries.[2][3] The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) take a strong position, excluding atheists and agnostics.[4] The United Kingdom Scout Association requires adult leaders to acknowledge a higher power, but does not necessarily exclude atheists from roles in Scouting, as long as the local Commissioner is satisfied that the applicant leader will support the values of Scouting and the investigation of faith by the young people in the movement. Scouts Canada defines Duty to God broadly in terms of "adherence to spiritual principles" and does not have a policy excluding non-theists.[5]


Scouting was traditionally broken into separate boys and girls programs but worldwide there are now different approaches. There is a trend towards mixed programs in most WOSM member organizations. Most WAGGGS member organizations remain girls-only. See Co-educational Scouting for more information.


In countries where homosexuality is legal, there is usually at least one Scouting association that does not restrict homosexuals from membership or leadership positions. An exception is the United States where avowed homosexuals are not allowed to be adult leaders or youth members; the national administration of the BSA, the country's only WOSM member, believes that Scouting should reflect traditional family values. [6] Homosexuals are not restricted from membership or leadership positions in Scouts Canada and most European associations, including The Scout Association of the United Kingdom, Ring deutscher Pfadfinderverbände of Germany (German Scout Federation), and the Swedish Guide and Scout Association.[7]

United States

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA), the largest youth organization in the United States, has policies which prohibit or restrict certain people from membership and participation. Some of these membership policies are controversial and have resulted in the dismissal of Scouts and adult Scout leaders from the BSA or a Scouting unit for being an atheist, agnostic, or homosexual.[8]

Advocates of the Boy Scouts of America contend that these policies are essential in its mission "to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law".[9][10] Others believe that some or all of these policies are wrong and discriminatory.[11][12]

The organization's right to set such policies has been upheld repeatedly by both state and federal courts. Moreover, in 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that the Boy Scouts of America is a private organization which can set its own membership standards. In recent years, the policy disputes have led to litigation over the terms under which the BSA can access governmental resources including public lands.[13]

In addition to excluding gays and atheists, the BSA does not allow girls to participate in some Scouting programs, and this too has been a source of controversy.

World Organization of the Scout Movement

The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) has a membership of 155 National Scout Organizations with more than 28 million individuals.[1][2] Only one national Scout organization per country is recognized by WOSM. In some countries the National Scout Organization is a federation composed of more than one Scout association. The groups represented by a federation are sometimes divided on the basis of religion (France, Denmark), ethnicity (Bosnia, Israel), or native language (Canada).[3]

WOSM requires member National Scout Organizations to reference "duty to God" in their Scout Promises (see WOSM Scout Promise requirements). This requirement causes difficulties for atheists and agnostics seeking Scouting membership.

Military aspects

Template:Cleanup-section Already before the start of Scouting, Baden-Powell was accused of having a military goal, even for hidingly training cadets. He always strongly opposed to this.[14]

  • The base of Scouting, the book "Scouting for boys ", was not a rewrite of the popular "Aids to Scouting", a small instruction book Baden-Powell wrote about military Scouting. Baden-Powell transferred only the techniques to non-military hero's: backwoodsman, explorers, sailors and airmen.[15] "Scouting for Boys" has no military content.
  • Some refer to a military hierarchy, but in contrary Scouting has an anti-authoritarian streak.[16] The Patrol leader is a leader, but is elected by members of the patrol. About the Scoutmaster Baden-Powell "stipulated that the position of Scoutmaster was to be neither that of a schoolmaster nor of a commander Officer, but rather that of an elder brother among his boys, not detached or above them individually".[15]. These are no military hierarchy.
  • Baden-Powell did support to learn shooting with a rifle, which even resulted in a few pages of instruction in "Scouting for Boys". This had however no military aim, but would be useful if boys really became a frontier men by settling in the colonies, which Baden-Powell advertised.[14]
  • The uniform was and still is the strongest suggestion of a military Scouting. Baden-Powell gave three reasons for the uniform: the boys like it, it gives a group feeling and it covers differences in wealth. The first reason he explains as giving the boys a direct connection to their hero's, so as part of the theatrical side of the Scouting game.[15] However in reality those hero's did not wore uniforms and Baden-Powell must have realised that a (hidden) part of the attractions for boys was the military suggestion.

The absence of real military aspects does not mean that Baden-Powell was anti-military. His efforts for peace became stronger in time, making him anti-war, but he disapproved anti-militarism. He even did not see any harm in training in a military way.[14] [17] One reason for not using the military parts can been seen from his reaction on the Boys Brigade. It was the intention of Baden-Powell to make an attractive boys game and he just thought that the military was not attractive enough.[16] The second reason was that some parents would object military training, which would limit the reach of Scouting.[18] There was probably another reason. The centre of his Scout method was individuality (opposite to the group), making own decisions (opposite to following the herd or commander), doing good turns, self-learning (opposite to instruction by drill) [18] and a game based on theatre and "make believe". These would never fit in a military scheme. Baden-Powell did use some parts of his profession which he found useful, like the uniform and some names, but these are always externals, never the essential fighting core of military nor specific military techniques.

See also


  1. Parsons, Timothy. "Race, Resistance, and the Boy Scout Movement in British Colonial Africa". Ohio University Press and Swallow Press. Retrieved 2006-12-25. 
  2. "What was Baden-Powell's position on God and Religion in Scouting?". Faqs. 1998. Retrieved 2006-12-03. 
  3. Baden-Powell, Robert (1912). "Baden-Powell on Religion". Retrieved 2006-12-03. 
  4. "Duty to God". BSA Legal Issues. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved 2006-12-03. 
  5. "BSA and Religious Belief". BSA Retrieved 2006-10-16. 
  6. "World Scouting Movement". BSA Discrimination. Retrieved 2006-07-14. 
  7. Scout UK Equal Opportunity Policy for young people and for adults.
  8. "Case Studies". Inclusive Scouting .NET. Retrieved 2006-08-31. 
  9. "Core Values". BSA Legal. Retrieved 2006-10-02. 
  10. "Duty to God". BSA Legal Issues. Retrieved 2006-10-22. 
  11. "Boy Scouts & Public Funding: Defending Bigotry as a Public Good". Retrieved 2006-11-14. 
  12. "Discrimination in the BSA". BSA Discrimination. Retrieved 2006-09-04. 
  13. "Supreme Court Won't Review Berkeley Sea Scouts' Case". Retrieved 2006-10-17. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Baden_Powell, Robert (1908). Scouting for Boys. pp. 284, 300. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Baden_Powell, Robert (1933). Lessons from the Varsity of Life, chapter X. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 Jeal, Tim (1989). Baden-Powell. pp. 416. 
  17. Baden_Powell, Robert (1926). Scouting for Boys. pp. 326-327. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 Baden_Powell, Robert (1945). Aids to Scoutmastership. pp. 45.