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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Non-religious girl may have to leave Brownies because of religious oath

Seven-year old Maddie Willett is in the Brownies, and she really likes it. But now her membership is threatened because she doesn’t want to take a religious oath.

She asked if she could change the words of the promise, but a leader at the 2nd Crawley Down Brownies in Sussex refused her permission.

Her parents, Juliette and Barry, say their daughter now feels like she doesn‘t fit in, as all her friends have been able to make their promises.

Brownies are asked to pledge: “I promise that I will do my best, to love my God, to serve the Queen and my country, to help other people and to keep the Brownie Guide law."

Juliette cannot understand why the wording could not be tweaked. She told the East Grinstead Courier & Observer: “We don‘t have a belief in God and our daughter is yet to make a decision. It‘s a big decision for her to make and it would be offensive for an atheist to say they love God."

Maddie has been with the group for about six months and was due to make her promise on July 19.

“It‘s a really big thing to take the Brownie Promise and that‘s what has bothered me the most," Juliette added. “She‘s incredibly upset at the idea that she can‘t be a fully fledged Brownie. The biggest thing for her is that she feels excluded."

The couple are keen for their youngest daughter, Mia, 5, to join the Brownies when she turns seven, but admit they may face the same obstacle.

Juliette said: “Maddie wants to stay in the Brownies because a lot of her friends go there, but she feels very upset that she‘s being forced to say a word that she doesn‘t want to. We will either let it go or I will take her out of Brownies, because we are going to hit this problem again when she comes to Girl Guides and when Mia joins the Brownies."

A Girlguiding UK spokesperson suggested that Maddie should have been allowed to change the wording. He said: “Girl guiding UK does not require girls or young women to follow any particular faith, and not having a defined faith does not preclude membership. Our volunteer leaders work with girls and young women when they join us to explore the fuller meaning of the promise and decide if they are ready to make that promise. The promise has evolved to explicitly include members with different beliefs and another name can be substituted for God to make the promise more meaningful to each girl or woman. In these cases it is recommended that our volunteer leaders discuss the wording of the promise with the girl and an adult with parental responsibility."

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “The spokesman for the Girl Guides doesn’t seem to be able to think outside the religious box. If a Muslim were asked to swear a specifically religious oath there would be loud protests, but an atheist is expected to simply forget they have a conscience.”

Mr Sanderson continued: “The founder of the National Secular Society, Charles Bradlaugh, fought for years for the right to affirm rather than swear religious oaths. But that was in the 19th century. It’s time for the Girl Guides and the Scouts to catch up.”

Published Fri, 12 Aug 2011