Scouting controversy and conflict

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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[ citation needed ] but became a subversive challenge to the legitimacy of British imperialism 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 (see also Non-aligned Scouting and Scout-like organisations).


This article discusses historical and contemporary Scouting controversies and difficulties, with examples from various countries.

Sectarian and secular conflict

Religion in Scouting and Guiding is an aspect of the Scout method which has been practiced differently and given different interpretations over the years. [2]

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 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.

Conflict over atheism

In 1933 some Scout groups broke away from the national Boy Scout organization De Nederlandsche Padvinders (NPV, "Netherlands Pathfinders") to form the Padvinders Vereeniging 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 should not 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 variant of the 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. As of 2014, The Scout Association has allowed scouts in the UK to make a promise either with or without reference to God.

Bans on Scouting by communists and fascists

Scouting has been banned in certain nations and remains banned in some of them. Scouting was changed into a regime loyal Scoutlike organization or banned in nearly all communist countries [ citation needed ], most fascist countries[ citation needed ], and some other countries with authoritarian regimes such as Afghanistan under the Taliban, Malawi and Iran. Banning has caused Scouting to go underground in countries such as Poland and Francoist Spain. 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 King Carol II of Romania had the Străjeria.

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


In 1914, the first Scout groups in Cuba were founded. In the following years more local groups emerged, but they were not connected through a national association until 1927 when the Asociación de Scouts de Cuba (ASC) was founded. In the same year the association became a member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM). During its first years, Cuban Scouting followed mainly the model of the Boy Scouts of America.

Scouting existed in Cuba itself until the 1960s, when Cuban Scouting ceased operations after the Cuban revolution of 1959. Cuban Scouts rendered service during those times, directing traffic, collecting rations, helping in hospitals and establishing first aid stations. In 1961, the World Scout Conference terminated the WOSM membership of ASC claiming that they had ceased to exist.[ citation needed ] Communist leaders replaced the association with the José Martí Pioneer Organization. There is a Cubans-in-exile Association.

Cuba is now one of only six of the world's independent countries that do not have Scouting. Cuba was also a former member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, with the Asociación de Guías de Cuba last mentioned in 1969.


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.


German Scouting started in 1909. German Scouting later became involved with the German Youth Movement, of which the Wandervogel was a part. German Scouting flourished until 1934-35, when nearly all associations were closed and their members had to join the Hitler Youth. In West Germany and West Berlin, Scouting was reestablished after 1945, but it was banned in East Germany until 1990 in favor of the Thälmann Pioneers and the Free German Youth (FDJ). Currently, Scouting is present in all parts of the unified Federal Republic of Germany and consists of about 150 different associations and federations with about 260,000 Scouts and Girl Guides.

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 Cubs, offered "summer camps" where 10- to 15-year-old boys had up to 14-hour days filled with hand-to-hand fighting drills. [3] 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 Scouting membership

Controversies have arisen from the exclusion of certain people, including atheists, agnostics, and/or LGBT people, from membership of some Scouting organisations; these are detailed below:

Atheists and agnostics

"Duty to God" is a principle of Scouting worldwide, though it is applied differently among countries. [4] [5] The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) takes a strong position, excluding atheists and agnostics, [6] [7] while Girl Scouts of the USA takes a more neutral position. The United Kingdom Scout Association has recently published alternative promises for people of different or no religion, specifying "Atheists, Humanists and people of no specific religion", who make a promise to uphold Scouting values rather than a duty to God. Scouts Canada defines Duty to God broadly in terms of "adherence to spiritual principles" and does not require members to be part of an organized religion, but does require that they have some form of "personal spirituality". [8] In other countries, especially in Europe, some Scouting organizations may be secularist or religiously neutral (such as Eclaireuses et Eclaireurs de France, Corpo Nazionale Giovani Esploratori ed Esploratrici Italiani and the Baden-Powell Service Association in the United States [9] ).

Homosexual people

Spanish Scouts marching in Madrid for LGBT rights during the WorldPride 2017 parade. WorldPride 2017 - Madrid - Manifestacion - 170701 211224.jpg
Spanish Scouts marching in Madrid for LGBT rights during the WorldPride 2017 parade.

In the United States, up until July 2015, "avowed homosexuals" were not allowed to be adult leaders; the national administration of the Boy Scouts of America, the country's only WOSM member, no longer believes that homosexual leaders prevent Scouting from reflecting traditional family values. [10] The Girl Scouts of the USA, by contrast, maintain a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Homosexual people are not restricted from membership or leadership positions in Scouts Canada, the Baden-Powell Service Association in the United States, Scouts Australia.

Publicist James Dale was expelled from his position as assistant Scoutmaster shortly after coming out. [11]

Lee Walzer argued that the BSA policy is unfair, and in July 2015, the organization changed partially as a result of his arguments. Although he does not challenge the BSA rights regarding "a prospective leader presents himself as a role model inconsistent with Boy Scouting's understanding of the Scout Oath and Law", he rejects the notion that being openly gay makes a man a bad role model for Boy Scouts. [12]

Most European associations do not restrict from membership or leadership positions people from the LGTB collective, including The Scout Association of the United Kingdom, Ring deutscher Pfadfinderverbände of Germany (German Scout Federation), and the Swedish Guide and Scout Association., [13] with some associations completely embracing the LGTB collective as part of the true meaning of the Scout Movement and the 4th Scout Law (A Scout is Friendly and a Brother to Other Scouts), such as the Federación de Asociaciones de Scouts de España (ASDE) of Spain (Federation of Spanish Scouts/Explorers) [14] and Scouting Nederland. [15]

United States

The Boy Scouts of America, the largest youth organization in the United States, has policies which prohibit atheists, agnostics, and formerly had policies that prohibited known or "avowed homosexuals" from membership in its Scouting program. Before the policy change on homosexuality both youths and adults have had their memberships revoked as a result. Before the policy change, the BSA contended that these policies were essential in its mission to instill in young people the values of the Scout Oath and Law. [6] [16] Until recently the BSA also prohibited girls from participating in two of its programs (Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting). These policies are controversial and are considered by some to be discriminatory. [17] [18]

The organization's legal right to have these policies has been upheld repeatedly by both state and federal courts. The Supreme Court of the United States in its Boy Scouts of America v. Dale decision, affirmed that as a private organization, the BSA 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. [19]

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. Only one national Scouting 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 (e.g., Denmark and France), ethnicity (e.g., Bosnia and Israel), or native language (e.g., Belgium). [20]

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.

Eurasian Scout Region

There is some controversy because several members of the Eurasian Scout Region's top hierarchy are former Pioneer leaders. The primary goal of the Pioneers, whose membership was nearly compulsory, was the indoctrination of youth into communism. To complicate matters, these organizations adopted many of the trappings of the Scout organizations they supplanted. Because of the negative experience with the communist youth organizations, Scouting in the Eurasian Region is having a slow rebirth. Proponents see the inheritance of Pioneer work and properties in a positive light. Opponents have seen the Eurasian Region as a tool that would allow former Pioneers to keep their influence over post Soviet youth movements, and use their newfound connections outside the region for their own gain. Even the placement of the Regional headquarters at the historic Pioneer Camp Artek at Yalta appears to many to point to this Pioneer dominance. Opponents also question the fact that authoritarian Belarus was a member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, against WOSM's stated guidelines, while democratic neighbor Ukraine is not a WOSM member. In the years following its creation, the Eurasian Region was considered by some to have stagnated in its purpose: among other things, the official website was not updated between 2004 and February 2006.

Alternate solutions proposed at the time of the Soviet breakup, and still considered viable options by the critics of the Eurasian Region, would be to divide the Region into the previously existing European, Asia-Pacific, or Arab Scout Regions, along cultural lines and national preference, to provide Scouts fresh perspective. As the Baltic states-Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia-have joined the European Region, there is precedence for this solution. In addition, there is no corresponding Eurasian Region for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, the republics are divided geographically between WAGGGS' Europe Region and Asia Pacific Region. Besides their shared tsarist and Soviet past, the 12 members of the Eurasian Region have little in common. Some, like Armenia and Azerbaijan, have waged war on each other, some like Georgia and Ukraine, allow open opposition, while others, like Belarus and Turkmenistan, have turned to authoritarianism reminiscent of Soviet times. Further, as none of the republics have had their Scout movements returned for much more than a decade, it is viewed that they would benefit from the expertise of the neighboring Scout associations in those Regions.

Other Scouting organization conflict

Scouting organizations have been involved in other types of conflict and controversy both internally and externally.


Canada is the only country with more than one Scouting organization separately recognized by WOSM, Scouts Canada and Association des Scouts du Canada, which are divided by language.

Some members of Scouts Canada are upset with Scouts Canada's restructuring, including a loss of voting rights at the local level. In response, SCOUT eh! was founded in 2004, an organization consisting of "registered Scouts Canada members from across Canada dedicated to transforming Scouts Canada into a democratic association". [21]

In 1998, the Baden-Powell Scouts of Canada (B-PSAC) were established in Canada, rejecting the modernization of the Scout method by WOSM and Scouts Canada. [22] Scouts Canada challenged the association and successfully argued that the word "Scout", in the context of a youth organization in Canada, is a trademark held by Scouts Canada. Part of the 1999 action also attempted, unsuccessfully, to deny the B-PSAC permission to use Baden-Powell's name.

Scouts Canada refuse to recognise B-PSAC members as Scouts, stating of Scout associations that "every country has only one, that's how Baden Powell set up scouting", [23] despite the fact that there are two WOSM recognised associations in Canada, and that Baden-Powell originally intended for Scouts Patrols to operate in a range of organisations. [24]

The B-PSAC no longer use the title Scout, and have reformed as the Baden-Powell Service Association Federation of Canada. Scouts Canada continue to monitor the B-PSA, and will not allow their members to share resources, equipment or personnel with them. [25]

Militarism in early Scouting movement

Before the start of Scouting there was criticism about a possible military goal of Scouting. It culminated in a schism where Sir Francis Vane and Battersea Scout District formed the British Boy Scouts in 1909, partly due to a suspicion of a too close involvement with military organizations. [26] Baden-Powell always strongly denied this. [27] [26]

Despite the above, Baden-Powell announced in the Headquarters Gazette in November 1914 that he was forming the Scout Defence Corps. Although he stated that this was non-militaristic, the Corps was intended to provide boys able to do "whatever was necessary" in the event of a German invasion, with Scouts being mostly trained as general infantry. Officers of the Scout Training Corps were encouraged to have links with officers in the regular army, and were urged to use the War Office's 1914 'Infantry Training Manual' alongside Baden-Powell's 'Aids to Scouting'. [29] The standards for the award of the Red Feather were laid out in a publication Marksmanship for Boys, written by Baden-Powell. The booklet included instruction in marksmanship and military drill, and concluded with a statement about changes in uniform that would take place should the Corps be accepted by the War Office, [30] although this recognition was denied in March 1915.

The absence of many 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 of anti-militarism. He even did not see any harm in training in a military way. [27] [31] One reason for not using military items can be seen from his reaction to the Boys Brigade. It was the intention of Baden-Powell to make an attractive boys game and he thought that the military was not attractive enough. [26] The second reason was that some parents would object military training, which would limit the reach of Scouting. [32] There was probably another reason. The centre of his Scout method was individuality (opposite to the group), making own decisions (opposite to following the commander), doing good turns, self-learning (opposite to instruction by drill) [32] and a game based on theatre and "make believe". These would never survive 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, rarely the essential fighting intention of military or specific military techniques.

See also

Related Research Articles

Scouting World-wide movement for the education of youth

The Scout movement, also known as Scouting or the Scouts, is a voluntary non-political educational movement for young people open to all without distinction of gender, origin, race or creed, in accordance with the purpose, principles and method conceived by the founder, Lord Baden-Powell. The purpose of the Scout Movement is to contribute to the development of young people in achieving their full physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual potentials as individuals, as responsible citizens and as members of their local, national and international communities. During the first half of the twentieth century, the movement grew to encompass three major age groups for boys and, in 1910, a new organization, Girl Guides, was created for girls. It is one of several worldwide youth organizations.

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).

Cub Scout Scouting program for young people

Cub Scouts, Cubs or Wolf Cubs are programs associated with Scouting for young children usually between 5 and 12, depending on the national organization to which they belong. A participant in the program is called a Cub. A group of Cubs is called a 'Pack'.

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.

World Scout Emblem logo of Scouting

The World Scout Emblem is the emblem of the World Organization of the Scout Movement and is worn by Scouts and Scouters around the world to indicate their membership. Each national Scout organization determines the manner in which the emblem is worn.

Scouting and Guiding in Mainland China was reported as banned with the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) by the Communist Party since 1949. Instead, the Young Pioneers of China and the Communist Youth League, led by the Communist Party, have become the dominant youth organization in mainland China for younger and older youth, respectively. However, China now has multiple and originally separate Scouting activities within its borders. In 2004, the Scout Club of Hainan (海南童子军俱乐部), borrowing heavily from Scouting in terms of emblems, uniforms and activities, was founded in Hainan Province; it is, however, not affiliated with worldwide Scouting. An attempt to organize a nationwide Scouting organization in Wuhan was ended by the government in 2004. The Scout Association of the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国童军总会), founded in 2008 serves Venture Scouts in both genders as well as Rover Scouts. The Rover Explorer Service Association operate groups in China.

Scouting and Guiding in Canada

The Scout and Guide movement in Canada is served by many separate organizations, some with various national and international affiliations.

Traditional Scouting is "old-fashioned" or "back to basics" Scouting in some form, often with an emphasis on woodcraft activities. One form of Traditional Scouting, the "Traditional Scouting movement", aims to return Scouting to traditional style and activities; rejecting the trend of modernizing Scouting to appeal to more youths or identifying programs for younger children as Scouting.

Lone Scouts are members of the Scout movement who are in isolated areas or otherwise do not participate in a regular Scouting unit or organization. A Lone Scout must meet the membership requirements of the Scouting organization to which they belong and have an adult Scout leader or counselor who may be a parent, guardian, minister, teacher, or another adult. The leader or counselor instructs the boy and reviews all steps of Scouting advancement. Lone Scouts can be in the Scout Section or sections for older young people, and in some countries in the Cub section or sections for younger boys. They follow the same program as other Scouts and may advance in the same way as all other Scouts.

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 in Russia

Scouting in Russia comprises several dozen Scout associations, based on religion, politics and geography.

The Scout and Guide movement in Denmark consists of about ten different associations. Most of them are members of two large federations, but there are also some independent organizations. Affiliated to Danish Scouting and Guiding are the organizations in Greenland, on the Faroe Islands and in Southern Schleswig.

History of the Boy Scouts of America Wikimedia history article

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was inspired by and modeled on the Boy Scout Association, established by Baden-Powell in Britain in 1908. In the early 1900s, several youth organizations were active, and many became part of the BSA.

Religion in Scouting

Religion in Scouting and Guiding is an aspect of the Scout method that has been practiced differently and given different interpretations over the years.

Non-aligned Scouting organizations is a term used by the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and their member national organizations to refer to Scouting organizations that are not affiliated with them. See List of non-aligned Scouting organizations.

The Scout and Guide movement in Australia consists of

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


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