Religion in Scouting

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Religion in Scouting
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Scouting and Guiding flags in St Marys Church, Brownsea Island
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Religion in Scouting and Guiding is an aspect of the Scout method that has been practiced differently and given different interpretations over the years.

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In contrast to the Christian-only Boys' Brigade, which started two decades earlier, Robert 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. [1]

Scouting organizations 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 organizations.

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… [2]

Indeed, the Scout Promise as originally written by Baden-Powell states that Scout does 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, without dictating a particular faith:

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. [3]

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… [4]

Take a negative instance. A Mahommedan Guider comes to England and addresses a lot of Girl Guides on religion, in the course of which she quotes Mahomet as the one divine teacher. This in spite of the fact that her audience are believers in Christ. How would you regard her action? As tactless, as insulting, as fanatical? At any rate it wouldn't be exactly polite or in accordance with our laws of courtesy. Yet I have known Christian Guiders as well as Scouters do exactly the same thing with Jews or Hindoos or people of other beliefs present, and these on their part have sat under it, too polite to raise objections but none the less made uncomfortable by it. Once, at a mixed gathering at a 'Scout's Own' a speaker carefully avoided much reference to Christ and was accused by some there of 'denying Him'. His defence was that he was rather following Christ in that he was showing Christian deference to the feelings of others who, equally with himself, were sons of one Father, under whatever form they rendered homage to God. [5]

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":   WikiProject Scouting going home symbol.svg . [6]

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 its 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". Note that, by contrast to the title, the body of the text omits the word "God" to make clear that the clause also covers non-monotheistic religions, such as Hinduism, and those that do not recognize a personal God, such as Buddhism. [7]

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 acknowledgment of a force higher than man of the highest Spiritual Principles. [8]

National organizations may further define it. For instance, the current Religious Policy of The Scout Association of the United Kingdom states that:

  • "make every effort to progress in the understanding and observance of the Promise to do their best to do their duty to God or to uphold Scouting’s values as appropriate
  • explore their faiths, beliefs and attitudes
  • consider belonging to some religious body;
  • carry into daily practice what they profess." [9]

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 organizations that are not of a specific religion, there are usually groups in the neighbourhood that have a less strict interpretation.

Additionally, some national organizations are aimed at the adherents of a specific religion, but there usually are other Scouting/Guiding organizations 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. [10] 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. [11]

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

Scout Sunday service at the St Francis de Sales parish, Philadelphia, 1949 Scout Sunday service Philadelphia 1949.png
Scout Sunday service at the St Francis de Sales parish, Philadelphia, 1949

The Boy Scouts of America have been non-sectarian in their application of a Scout is Reverent. [1]

Declaration of Religious Principle. The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, "On my honor 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 favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members. [12]

The Boy Scouts of America has accepted Buddhist members and units since 1920, and also accepts members of various pantheistic faiths. Many Buddhists do not believe in a supreme being or creator deity, but because Buddhism is still considered religious and spiritual in nature by the BSA, their membership is deemed acceptable, provided the scouting troop leaders subscribe to the BSA Declaration of Religious Principle as they interpret it.

In March of 2016, the BSA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) after many years of dispute between the BSA and the UUA. [13] While declaring that "all youth members and adult leaders of the BSA must subscribe to the Declaration of Religious Principle in the BSA's Bylaws", the MOU gives any Unitarian Universalist congregation the absolute authority over all phases of the program that affect the spiritual welfare of those who participate in Scouting programs sponsored by a Unitarian Universalist congregation. The MOU specifically mentions Humanism and Earth-centered traditions as being acceptable faiths in Scouting programs chartered by Unitarian Universalist congregations. This MOU may allow for atheist and agnostic members to join the BSA through Scout units chartered by Unitarian Universalist congregations.[ failed verification ] As part of the agreement in the MOU, BSA recognition of the religious emblems developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association was reinstated as of May 2016. [14]

The BSA policy excludes atheists and agnostics. [12] The BSA has come under strong criticism over the past years due to their religious policy and stance against agnostics and atheists.

Scouts Canada

Scouts Canada states that all Scouts have what's called a "Duty to God", defined as "The responsibility to adhere to spiritual principles, and thus to the religion that expresses them, and to accept the duties therefrom". [15] Additionally, the Scout promises for each age group include references to God such as the Beaver promise: "I promise to love God and help take care of the world." and the Scout/Venturer promise "... To do my duty to God and the Queen ...". [16] Scouts Canada maintains that a spiritual element is required for membership. [17]

Scouts Canada has a "Religion in Life" emblem that is awarded upon completion of a particular denomination's program by a Scout. [18] In 2009, a "Spirituality Award" for Scouts and Guides who did not belong to any denomination was established. [19] [20]

Girl Guides of Canada

Girl Guides of Canada suggested a new version of their Promise that uses "my beliefs" instead of a direct references to God in 2009. [21] The new Promise was approved in 2010. [22]

Scouts Australia

In Australia, Scouting makes no effort to find out if potential child members are atheists or agnostics. One version of the Australian Scout promise contains "duty to my god" as opposed to "duty to God" used by many other countries, allowing each member to make an individual personal interpretation.

Girl Guides Australia

In 2012, the promise was reworded to have to "develop my beliefs" instead of a direct reference to God. [23]

The Scout Association in the United Kingdom

The Scout Association of the United Kingdom allows members of any religion, or no religion at all. Leaders, like all members, are not expected to be a member of any particular faith nor hold any religious belief of their own. They are, however, expected to abide by the Association's religious policy which promotes mutual acceptance of beliefs within the Movement such as by encouraging young Scouts to explore their own beliefs as well as making general provisions and considerations for members, such as giving them advice and guidance and allowing for the observance of religious practices within the Group. Previous to January 2014 it was necessary for all members of the Association to hold a faith, however this is no longer the case. [24] Scouts of religions other than Christianity can choose from a selection of alternatively worded promises. Scouts of no religion can choose to make a promise that replaces "duty to God" with "to uphold our Scout values" followed by "to do my duty to the Queen". [25] Any member making their Promise can choose which version of the Promise they wish to do.

The change in policy followed a consultation conducted in 2012 to gauge support among members for an alternate atheist Scout promise, removing the invocation of a deity. At the same time, the Guide Association, the parallel movement which began two years later, is to launch a consultation about its very similar promise, with views sought on all parts of the wording from early January. TSA UK chief commissioner Wayne Bulpitt said religion would remain "a key element" even if a new variant of the promise was approved. Julie Bentley, chief executive of the Guide Association, said its consultation would begin on 3 January. [26]

From 1 September 2013 Girl Guiding UK introduced a new promise, in which members promise ‘to be true to myself and develop my beliefs’ replacing ‘to love my God’ [27]

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 states "We are inclusive, welcoming children, youth and adults regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation or other aspect of diversity". [28] On the other hand, the American Heritage Girls are explicitly Christian and require all adult leaders to adhere to a specific Statement of Faith. [29] 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. [30]

Current practices

Jacques Gagey, Chaplain General of Scouts et Guides de France with an altar built with pioneering techniques Jacques Gagey, Chaplain General of Scouts et Guides de France with a portable altar built with pioneering techniques.jpg
Jacques Gagey, Chaplain General of Scouts et Guides de France with an altar built with pioneering techniques
Boy Scout camp during the pilgrimage season in Mina, Saudi Arabia Scouting in Mina, Saudi Arabia 2012 13.JPG
Boy Scout camp during the pilgrimage season in Mina, Saudi Arabia

Scout groups handle religious practices in different ways.

Some Scouting organizations have many obligatorily religious merit badges [31] as a way of fulfilling a requirement for a rank and others have a single voluntary religious merit badge or none at all. [32] Scouting organizations may recognise religious programs run by other organizations, like the religious emblems programs in the United States and Canada.

Austria

In Austria, Pfadfinder und Pfadfinderinnen Österreichs is a member of both WOSM and WAGGGS. The association is open to members without prejudice to birth, nationality, religion or belief. Both Promise and Law contain references to god.

There are chaplains on national level for Lutheran and for Roman Catholic groups and members, as well as a commissioner for spirituality on national level. There can be chaplains on council- and group-level. Some groups are attached to religious communities or parishes; but even these are open to members of all denominations or religions.

There are religious merit badges. Requirements for awards include religion and spirituality.

Belgium

In Belgium, The association "Les Scouts" offers a neutral Promise text, [33] with no mention to God. FOS Open Scouting replaced "duty to God" with "loyal to a higher ideal" in their promise. [34] The SGP association (Scouts et Guides Pluralistes) offer that same text as an alternative to "God" or "my religion".

Ireland

Scouting Ireland is a member of WOSM. The association is open to members without prejudice to birth, nationality, sexual orientation, religion or belief. The Law contains no reference to God and members are offered three alternative variants of the promise, one which refers to God a second requiring that the member do their best to further their understanding and acceptance of a Spiritual Reality, and a third to uphold Scout Principles. [35]

Jordan

In Jordan the units are affiliated with the International Union of Muslim Scouts.

Malaysia

In Malaysia Girl Guides working on their Bintang Anugerah Ketua Pesuruhjaya (Head Commissioner Award) must complete a requirement about their faith.

Slovenia

In Slovenia, Zveza tabornikov Slovenije 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 promise 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 actively practices the Roman 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.

United Kingdom

The Scout Association

All members of The Scout Association are encouraged to: [9]

  • make every effort to progress in the understanding and observance of the Promise to do their best to do their duty to God or to uphold Scouting’s values as appropriate
  • explore their faiths, beliefs and attitudes
  • consider belonging 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.

In October 2012 an eleven-year-old atheist boy was denied entry to the Scouts in Somerset, England. [36]

As of 1 January 2014, an alternative promise is available for those of no faith. [25]

There are 2 activity badges relating to faith, one for exploring the members own faith (my faith) and another for learning about several other faiths (world faiths) however both of these badges are optional. [37] [38] [39] [40]

United States of America

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) celebrates Scout Sunday and Scout Sabbath in February, [41] 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. [42] In general, religion in scouting was seen as ecumenical. [43]

Up to 2019, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) included Scouting as an official part of its religious program for boys and young men. The LDS Church was the first institutional sponsor of the BSA in the USA, and used to sponsor more BSA units than any other organization. [44] [45]

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, each rank must complete a requirement about their faith. Additionally, 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. [46] In 1998, the BSA withdrew recognition of the Religion in Life program, stating that such information was incompatible with BSA programs. [46] 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. [47] On March 24, 2016, the Boy Scouts of America and the Unitarian Universalist Association signed an historic Memorandum of Understanding to provide guidance to UU congregations who wish to sponsor Boy Scout troops. This move towards re-establishing organizational ties is due to the BSA’s recent policy changes making scouting more inclusive to gay scouts and gay scout leaders. [48] [49]

Sweden

In 1970, the Swedish Scout Promise was changed by Svenska Scoutförbundet from "I promise to do my best in performing my duty to God and the motherland, helping others, and following the Scout Law." to "I promise to do my best in following the Scout Law.". [50]

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:

ICCS, DESMOS, IUMS, WBSB, IFJS, CPGS enjoy consultative status with the World Scout Committee, ICCG and CPGS with WAGGGS.

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 Camp Fire.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Unitarian Universalist Association a liberal religious association of Unitarian Universalist congregations, formed in 1961 by the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America

Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is a liberal religious association of Unitarian Universalist congregations. It was formed in 1961 by the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. Both of these predecessor organizations began as Christian denominations of the Unitarian and Universalist varieties respectively. However, modern Unitarian Universalists see themselves as a separate religion with its own beliefs and affinities. They define themselves as non-creedal, and draw wisdom from various religions and philosophies, including humanism, pantheism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Islam, and Earth-centered spirituality. Thus, the UUA is a syncretistic religious group with liberal leanings.

Unitarian Universalism Non-credal liberal religion

Unitarian Universalism (UU) is a liberal religion characterized by a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning". Unitarian Universalists assert no creed, but instead are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth, guided by a dynamic, "living tradition". Currently, these traditions are summarized by the Six Sources and Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism, documents recognized by all congregations who choose to be a part of the Unitarian Universalist Association. These documents are 'living', meaning always open for revisiting and reworking. Unitarian Universalist (U.U.) congregations include many atheists, agnostics, and theists within their membership - and there are U.U. churches / fellowships / congregations / societies all over America - as well as others around the world. The roots of Unitarian Universalism lie in liberal Christianity, specifically Unitarianism and universalism. Unitarian Universalists state that from these traditions comes a deep regard for intellectual freedom and inclusive love. Congregations and members seek inspiration and derive insight from all major world religions.

World Organization of the Scout Movement international Scouting organization

The World Organization of the Scout Movement is the largest international Scouting organization. WOSM has 171 members. These members are recognized national Scout organizations, which collectively have over 50 million participants. WOSM was established in 1922, and has its operational headquarters at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and its legal seat in Geneva, Switzerland. It is the counterpart of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).

Girl Scouts of the USA Non-profit organization in the USA

Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA), commonly referred to as simply Girl Scouts, is a youth organization for girls in the United States and American girls living abroad. Founded by Juliette Gordon Low in 1912, it was organized after Low met Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, in 1911. Upon returning to Savannah, Georgia, she telephoned a distant cousin, saying, "I've got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we're going to start it tonight!"

World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts International organization for Guiding and Girl Scouting

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Religious emblems programs (Boy Scouts of America)

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Scout sign and salute the salute of the World Scouting Movement

The three-finger salute is used by members of Scout and Guide organizations around the world when greeting other Scouts and in respect of a national flag at ceremonies. In most situations, the salute is made with the right hand, palm face out, the thumb holding down the little finger, and with the fingertips on the brow of the head. There are some variations of the salute between national Scouting organizations and also within some programme sections.

Scout Promise

Since the publication of Scouting for Boys in 1908, all Scouts and Girl Guides around the world have taken a Scout promise or oath to live up to ideals of the movement, and subscribed to a Scout Law. The wording of the Scout Promise and Scout Law have varied slightly over time and from country to country. Some national organization promises are given below. Although most Scouting and Guiding organizations use the word "promise", a few such as the Boy Scouts of America tend to use "oath" instead. Typically, Scouts and Guides will make the three-fingered Scout Sign when reciting the promise.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA), one of the largest private youth organizations in the United States, has policies which prohibit those who are not willing to subscribe to the BSA's Declaration of Religious Principle, which is usually interpreted as banning atheists, and, until January 2014, prohibited all "known or avowed homosexuals", from membership in its Scouting program. The ban on adults who are "open or avowed homosexuals" from leadership positions was lifted in July 2015. Prior to these policy changes, BSA had denied or revoked membership status or leadership positions for violation of these foundational principles. The BSA had contended that its policies were essential in its mission to instill in young people the values of the Scout Promise, or Oath, and Scout Law.

Scouting Nederland National Scout organisation of the Netherlands

Scouting Nederland is the national Scout organisation of the Netherlands with approximately 110,000 members (53,324 male and 54,663 female, 87,000 youth members, as of 2010.

Kenya Scouts Association

The Kenya Scouts Association is the national Scouting association of Kenya. Scouting was founded in British East Africa in 1910 and became a member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement in 1964. It has 323,929 members.

Religious emblems programs also called religious recognition programs are awards set up by some religious organizations for members of various youth organizations.

Scouts Day A day to celebrate the founding of Scouting

Scouts' Day or Guides' Day is a generic term for special days observed by members of the Scouting movement throughout the year. Some of these days have religious significance, while others may be a simple celebration of Scouting. Typically, it is a day when all members of Scouting will re-affirm the Scout Promise.

Scouting in the United States is dominated by the 2.7 million-member Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA and other associations that are recognized by one of the international Scouting organizations. There are also a few smaller, independent groups that are considered to be "Scout-like" or otherwise Scouting related.

Scouting has sometimes become entangled in social controversies such as 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 British imperialism as Scouting fostered solidarity amongst African Scouts. There are also controversies and challenges within the Scout Movement itself such as current efforts to turn Scouts Canada into a democratic organization.

The Scout and Guide movement in Malta is served by three organizations:

A variety of religious emblems programs are used by the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) to encourage youth to learn about their faith and to recognize adults who provide significant service to youth in a religious environment. These religious programs are created, administered and awarded by the various religious groups and not GSUSA, though the GSUSA recognizes such programs and allows the emblem to be worn on the uniform. Many are listed by Programs of Religious Activities with Youth (P.R.A.Y.), an independent organization, as awards recognized by the Girl Scouts in an official brochure provided to Girl Scout council offices, as well as posted on the P.R.A.Y. website. The Girl Scouts also recognize that not all religions have programs that are affiliated through P.R.A.Y. and suggests contacting local religious leaders for information about those.

Girl Guides Movement for girls and young women

Girl Guides is a movement found worldwide, which was originally and still largely designed for girls and women only. This organization was introduced in 1909, because girls demanded to take part in the then grassroots Boy Scout Movement.

Youth organizations in the United States are of many different types. The largest is the government run 4-H program, followed by the federally chartered but private Scouting movement groups: the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA). Another somewhat smaller but co-ed Scouting derived group is Camp Fire. Other youth groups are religious youth ministries such as the evangelical Christian Awana, Seventh-day Adventist Pathfinders, and Assemblies of God Royal Rangers.

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