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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

The Brownie Guide Promise – time for change

By Tessa Kendall

The NSS has written to the Chief Guide asking the organisation to reconsider the promise made by Guides and Brownies. We wrote after hearing that seven year old Maddie Willets couldn’t join the 2nd Crawley Down Brownies in Sussex because she didn’t want to make a promise to God.

The Guiding Movement has evolved to be more relevant to young women now, working hard on equality and diversity. While we entirely support the core values of tolerance, justice, respect, co-operation and so on, there is no need to contextualise them in a religious framework. We believe that changing the promise would be in keeping with Guiding’s modernisation; it’s one tradition that they don’t need to keep.

Being a Brownie or a Guide can be a really important, rewarding experience and the NSS would like to see that open to all girls and young women whatever their faith or lack of it – especially girls who are prepared to be honest like Maddie Willets, which is surely a quality that Guiding values.

At the moment, girls are allowed to modify the promise to suit their religion but not to drop God(s) entirely. However, there is a precedent for leaving God out.

In the 1920s, Baden-Powell allowed six countries to have an alternative, non-religious version of the promise. France, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic still have a version where the God line can be left out. For example, in France, the Eclaireuses say (in translation):

On my honour (the believers add: and before God), I promise to do my best to serve my country and friendship between men, to serve in any circumstance, to live our law and our golden rule.

The Canadians have gone a step further with their oath:

I promise to do my best, to be true to myself, my beliefs and Canada, I will take action for a better world, and respect the Brownie Law.

Since 1993, Girl Scouts of the USA have allowed another word or phrase to be substituted for ‘God’ in their promise appropriate to the girls’ own beliefs (unlike the Boy Scouts of America).

In a comment on the story about Maddie Willets, a spokeswoman for the Guides said: ‘Not having a defined faith does not preclude membership’ and that there was no reason why the Brownie pledge could not be altered. We are asking them to put this into action.

You can write to the Chief Guide asking her to propose a change in wording to the organisation at: Gill Slocombe, Chief Guide, Girlguiding UK, 17–19 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W OPT or email chq@girlguiding.org.uk.

You can listen to Senior Campaigns Officer Tessa Kendall talking about this on the Pod Delusion

Published Fri, 09 Sep 2011