Somerset lad barred from Boy Scouts because of his atheism

THE father of an 11-year-old boy who has no belief in God has accused the Scout movement of being “narrow minded” and “intolerant” after his was barred from the  1st Midsomer Norton Group in Somerset.

Young atheist George Pratt

According to this report, George Pratt had attended his local Scout group for ten months, and was expecting to invest in the group along with his friends. But, after being required to swear the traditional promise, he found himself unable to join as he does not believe in God.

George said he was “very disappointed” in the decision, calling it “very unfair” and claiming he feels left out from experiences and trips his friends are attending.

To become a full member of the group, which meets in a hall opposite his home, George must take the Scout Promise.  This reads:

On my honour, I promise that I will do my best, To do my duty to God and to the Queen, To help other people, And to keep the Scout Law.

Different versions of the oath are available for different faiths, such as the use of ‘Allah’ to replace ‘God’ for Muslims.

A spokesman for the Scout Movement has insisted all young members are required to make the Scout Promise, recognising their duty to a God relevant to their faith.

Said George:

I am really disappointed about not being able to go anymore just because I don’t believe in God.

We have spoken about it with the Scout Leader but he won’t change his decision, it is very unfair.

My friends who are Scouts don’t think it is right, either. Everyone is going caving soon and I’ve never been before. It is something I would love to do but I’m not allowed.

The determined youngster added:

I’m not going to change my decision though.

His father Nick Pratt, 45, said:

To be invested into the Scouts you have to believe in a God but it does not say which religion that God is from.  So you can be Muslim or Buddhist, but if you have the courage to stand up and admit that you do not believe in any God then look out because you are not welcome into the Scout community.

This is regardless of the fact that you are sensitive, generous, kind and genuinely a good person.

He contininued:

George had the guts to stand up and admit his view and I believe the Scouts are being narrow minded.

There are a lot of Christian organisations which do not exclude anybody. It just seems the Scouts in this area isn’t one of them.

Simon Carter, assistant director of media relations for the movement, said:

Young people are required to show both an understanding (relevant to their age) and an acceptance of the promise before they become a member.  Young people will not be refused membership solely because of their parents’ beliefs or non-beliefs, however they are required to make the promise as outlined above.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn


41 responses to “Somerset lad barred from Boy Scouts because of his atheism”

  1. AgentCormac says:

    A few years ago I was invited by a friend to join the local Masons. At my ‘interview’ I told them that being an atheist I obviously couldn’t swear allegiance on the bible. They politely told me never darken their door again (a narrow escape, some may say).

    Traditional institutions like the Scouts and the Masons perpetuate the notion that there is a god and that religious belief is somehow still a cornerstone of civilised society. It’s something that needs confronting and changing at every opportunity.

  2. AgentCormac says:

    OT, I’m afraid – but this is an interesting article.

  3. Broga says:

    @AgentCormac: Absolutely agree with your comment that religious belief is assumed to be a “cornerstone” of civilsed society. It isn’t, of course, and I doubt whether any of the other scouts are any more or any less religious than this boy. What would any of them say if they were asked what they meant by God. But just mouthing the ritual words is enough.

    Incidentally, they accept Buddists and I thought Buddhists didn’t believe in God. The fact that they are happy with Allah, the God of the muslims and we know what they are like, isn’t encouraging. As usual they would prefer a role playing, phony Christian to an honest principled atheist.

    It’s tough on the boy not doing things he would like to do while accompanying his friends. The more heat through publicity that can be brought to bear on the bigot who made this decision the better. As in Plebgate enough of the the right kind of publicity can render the most transient flexible.

  4. barriejohn says:

    Good for him! The “Boy Scouts of America” have been embroiled in controversy over their unwillingness to embrace homosexuals. Another brave lad here, and you can follow the links for the rest of the story:

  5. sailor1031 says:

    Given that Boy Scouts of America has just released, after much poking and prodding, a list of over 1,200 scout masters and officials accused of kiddy-fiddling, I think this young man has had a lucky escape too! He should run from the Scouts and never let them get near him again.

  6. barriejohn says:

    Sailor1031: The existence of sexual predators amongst (mainly CofE) British scoutmasters has been a national joke and national scandal for years!

    Re the Boy Scouts of America story to which you refer:

  7. the Woggler says:

    So they’ll change the rules for children of other faiths, but not for children of no faith. Given the number of practising Christians in this country, how many are just spouting the nonsense without any conviction?

  8. ZombieHunter says:

    Good on him for not compromising and staying true to himself and his beleifs.

    Shouldn’t there be some sort of alternative scouts style movement which doesn’t require beleif in religion and/or new age crap which promotes science and logic as well as doing good in the community and for others??

  9. Matt Westwood says:

    I’ve already had some vituperative arguments on another website on this subject.

    My initial comment was: shrug, say the meaningless words and then get down to the gleeful pursuits like canoeing, camping, climbing, clubbing etc. etc. in the company of like-minded little atheists.

    However, my attitude as declared by this one-line posting was cried down as “disgusting”. Now I don’t know about you but that came across as a bit strong.

    (Seriously, is my argument, what is the big deal? The words are “do do my duty to God …” and if God does not exist, then nor does the duty, so no worries there. It’s like saying “To pay the appropriate respect to the Tooth Fairy” – no tooth fairy so no respect need to be paid.)

    If a boy wants to get pompous and preachy about it and stand up on his hind legs and say “I don’t believe in your god” then fair play to him – but as for me, I’d rather join the club and get to do all sorts of fun stuff.

    But this was in the 1970s when attitudes to religion were rather more laid back and it was de rigueur for teenage boys to be uncaring about such pointless beliefs. “Do you believe in God, then? Naah. You? Naah. Pass the mallet, the tent-peg’s come loose.” But at that age we were inured to having a wash of meaningless platitudes poured over us: assembly at school was the usual stuff, where teachers who were clearly as uncommitted as us but were duty bound to go through the motions of mumbling through meaningless prayers and lyrically-inane hymns, and so on. Scouts was just some of that: there was some vaguely moralistic sermonising at the end of the weekly evening session which we variously stood dutifully to attention during or giggled and scuffled through, and there was a monthly parade at the local church – but otherwise? Meh.

    Attitudes appear to have polarised since then, to the detriment of the ability of kids to a) have a good time, and b) put all that barkey-malarkey into the perspective of the realisation that it’s all utterly meaningless, and merely a technique adults use to keep control over a bunch of otherwise more-or-less unruly boys.

  10. barriejohn says:

    There is, ZombieHunter, but our right-wing press ignore it!

  11. Sally says:

    Why do people even support this bigoted group any more? Here in the States, they get millions of dollars from the United Way, which does not support the Girl Scouts. My kids did neither, thankfully, but I do not understand the allure of a bunch of older men pretending to care about young boys, taking them camping, etc, when the real goal is indoctrination and, in some cases, abuse. Parents, there are better options for your sons.

  12. Angela_K says:

    This subject was discussed on BBC Radio Somerset yesterday and as you’d expect most of the listeners’ comments were from xtian loonies along the lines of scouts being an xtian organisation, if you don’t like the rules don’t join etc. Fortunately, Terry Sanderson of the NSS managed to bring some common sense to bear.

    Part of my comment was read out on air: “Buddhists, who have no deity, are allowed to join the Scouts but atheists are not – double standards isn’t it. This young man George has reached the conclusion about there being no gods that many adults fail to do”. No doubt that pissed off the fundies.

  13. David Anderson says:

    “To do my duty to God and to the Queen.” I wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire, as my old man used to say.

  14. Broga says:

    @David Anderson: “To do my duty to God and to the Queen.” What the hell does that mean anyway? It’s on a par with the insistence of a couple of missionaries who came to my Sunday School that, “You must take Jesus into your heart.” That would have been quite a trick. Anyway, at aged around eight I’m not sure we knew where our heart was.

    As for the Queen? The idle and profligate Windsors have been shafting “the subjects” for decades. Charlie, I see, who is a serious weirdo has had to have his opinions excluded, unlike anyone else, from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Equal under the law? It seems that Charlie’s opinions are so weird that the public wouldn’t want him as king. No problem there as they don’t want him anyway. He is already past retiring age and these the secret opinions in the letters are “an exercise in preparing him for kingship.” If this were not real you could not make it up. Bizarre doesn’t beging to describe it.

  15. sailor1031 says:

    If I had children The Boy Scouts of America would concern me not only for the prospect of having them raped but also for what they would learn that would be dangerously wrong……I well remember a case here in Virginia where some scoutmasters and scouts died from CO poisoning, while out camping, because the scoutmasters didn’t know it’s dangerous to heat a tent with the cookstove…..or teh four scoutmasters electrocuted at eth annual jamboree because they were putting up a large tent and allowed the main center pole to touch an overhead power line….

  16. Stonyground says:

    I think that Matt W. has a point, how much does it really matter? On the other hand, atheists have for along time just gone along with things, like religious assemblies in schools for instance, because we don’t think that it matters that much. To be honest, it doesn’t matter that much, my daughter went to a CofE primary school. I told her that I didn’t believe in God and that she could make up her own mind about it. Now fifteen, she is as much an atheist as I am. The downside to this easy going attitude is that the godly take advantage of it. All this nonsense would have been stamped out years ago if atheists, all atheists, had been prepared to take a stand on the matter. Maybe it is a case of picking our battles wisely.

  17. Ryan morrigan says:

    Believers of different faiths aren’t as scary to religiots because even though they don’t subscribe to the same delusion, they’re still delusional. Their brains are still wired for mysticism and subject to blind obedience. Atheists, on the other hand, represent critical thinking and independent thought, bringing challenge to all that religion values…fear, guilt and shame. Thus, it is much more difficult for the scoutmasters to keep atheist boyscouts quiet about all butt rogering.

  18. Carlos T says:

    Anyone with an ounce of sanity would realise that oaths are utterly meaningless. Want proof? Simply count the number of criminals who, in any day an an average court, lay their hands on a Bible or Koran, swear to tell the truth, then lie through their teeth. But those who insist on these stupid oaths aren’t rational. If they were sane, they wouldn’t be Christians, Muslims etc.

  19. Stonyground says:

    I believe that rather than a Bible, a New Testament is used by Christians to swear an oath upon. The fact that the NT is full of lies, even the heading of the first page, the first thing that it says* is a lie, means that I would not have much of a problem swearing on it and then lying my arse off. After An affirmation that rested on my own integrity I would not lie. Personally I tend not to tell lies anyway.

    *”The Gospel According to St. Matthew”. It is in fact written by nobody knows who. It is not even ‘according’ to this mystery person who copied it from earlier works by nobody knows who.

  20. Stuart H. says:

    I can see Matt’s point about just saying the gibberish, laughing and getting on with the fun (must be obvious to even the smallest kid that adults lie all the time about such things), but I do think it says everything we need to know about 21st century scouting that, essentially, the only reason they won’t let this lad in is that he’s honest. Funnily enough, he’s almost a cartoon stereotype of a Boy Scout.

  21. Matt Westwood says:

    @Carlos T: yes, that’s a point that I had in mind of making but forgot between synapses and access to keyboard.

    An oath is just a flapping of a jaw and a noise made. Or a set of marks on a piece of paper. It’s just another magic spell like a prayer or the crossing of the fingers.

    Similarly, if someone asks you a question that you believe they have no business in asking, then you should feel no compunction in lying. Your life is your own. You belong to nobody. Therefore you have no obligation to expose your beliefs and thoughts to any other person.

  22. Trevor Blake says:

    The Boy Scouts (uk) and the Boy Scouts of America are distinct. This is a sad and foolish instance of the BSA influencing the founding group. And the BSA is in the pocket of the Mormons. Most Scouts are not Mormons but most Mormon boys are Scouts. Mormon Scout troops disallowed black leaders until the 1970s, when lawsuits began and hey presto! God gave them a revelation to allow black leaders. The Girl Scouts, meanwhile, have never banned atheists or homosexuals.

  23. barriejohn says:

    So we rationalists should be encouraging kids to “make an oath” and then blatantly ignore it, as if giving their word is of no importance? I give up!

  24. Lucy says:

    I’m with you, Barriejohn. We should teach our children to stand up and be counted on the side of righteousness. It does matter what you say and what you swear.

  25. Daz says:


    Similarly, if someone asks you a question that you believe they have no business in asking, then you should feel no compunction in lying.

    I have to disagree. If I feel it’s not their business, I refuse to answer. If I decide to answer, I will tell the truth, whether they’re going to like the answer or not. What you’re suggesting is telling kids it’s okay to lie.

  26. Matt Westwood says:

    Yes, but if you refuse to answer a loaded question, it makes it obvious that the answer is the one which is being loaded towards.

    If you reply to “Does this dress make me look fat?” with “I refuse to answer that question,” your conjugal rights have just been severely compromised for an indefinite time period. If a policeperson asks you, “Have you ever taken drugs?” and you say, “I refuse to answer that question” their radar has just gone to a higher intensity. And so on.

    As for the allegiance to oaths, I would rather educate my children into the fact that oaths are pointless, meaningless rituals imposed upon us by our fascist oppressors, and that it is our moral duty to render such oaths unworkable by consistently ignoring them.

  27. Matt Westwood says:

    … incidentally, why is lying wrong? Because it says so in the bible?

  28. andrea says:

    Perhaps if it were me I would insist on swearing to all gods possible – including the FSM, just to be fair to them all and to point out that all of them are equally likely to exist.
    But I’d look silly in a woggle anyway as a 44 year old woman so I doubt I’ll bother

  29. Matt Westwood says:

    @andrea: Do you know what a woggle is? And if so, why would you look silly wearing one?

  30. Daz says:

    Why is lying wrong? Because if we’re found out in one lie, people will have less reason to trust any statement we make in the future. It’s not that it necessarily causes harm to the person being lied to (though it might—in which case the lie is even worse; it’s a sliding scale, not an on-off switch), but rather, the liar is screwing up their own chances of being perceived as trustworthy.

    And yes, of course there are silly exceptions like the “does my bum look big in this?” case. No one said human beings are entirely logical. But in general, telling kids that it’s okay to lie cannot be seen as a good thing; you’re aiding them to harm their own future reputations.

    Just ’cause it’s in the Bible (and in most other attempts to write down a system of moral behaviour; ancient and modern) doesn’t make it automatically wrong, any more than it makes it automatically right.

  31. barriejohn says:

    I was very deceitful as a Christian, as the end often justified the means. Generally speaking, religious fanatics have much in common with politicians. I don’t lie now because I have more self respect and personal integrity, though if I felt it necessary to to spare someone’s feelings (maybe someone with a terminal illness, for example) at least I wouldn’t be racked with guilt any more. Hallelujah!

  32. Matt Westwood says:

    @Daz: Now we’re getting to the nub of it.

    Yes, there are good reasons why lying is a course of action which is advisable to limit. Generally speaking, you have an easier and more straightforward life if you do’t lie much. This is a pragmatic approach which rational people achieve through either trial and error, or philosophical reflection.

    Brainwashing a child into the mindset that “all lying is evil”, though, can do more damage than you’d think. I cherished a dream of being a writer for many years, but could not get past a feeling of unease in writing down stories that were “made up” because I conflated that exercise with “lying”. I have no such compunctions any more, but I wish I hadn’t been given that unhelpful character block.

    And what about job interviews? If you are mercilessly truthful in every single job application you make, you find yourself overtaken by less scrupulous and more creative applicants. The list goes on. Nice guys finish last, as the saying goes.

    That last paragraph is deliberately contentious, but I might suggest everyone takes a moment of introspection here.

  33. andrea says:

    I do know what a woggle is. I was being flippant. I don’t think it’d suit me

  34. Lucy says:

    Being truthful is likely to serve you better. It is a good strategy. But also i would like to live in a society where truthfulness in others is the norm. As for shades of truthfulness, they are always up for discussion.

    And i agree, matt, telling children anything is black and white is not a good idea, especially when you add in hell fire and eternal damnation. Truth matters, but is not simple, is the message i tried to give my daughter.

  35. Daz says:


    As a counter-example, I, and probably most of us in the UK, were implicitly taught to lie (mildly) by paying lip-service during prayers at school assembly. “If you don’t believe, bow your head anyway, and maybe even mouth the words.” How much better if the teacher spewing the mumbo-jumbo had been faced by a hall three-quarters full of non-believers, heads held up, staring blankly back at him?

    As regards oaths not being worth anything, my argument is that they should be worth something. But for them to be worth something, we need to have the freedom not to swear them. While children are punished by adults, as the lad in the OP was, for refusing to swear to something they have no belief in, most children will understandably continue to take the lying (again, mildly) route which avoids punishment. They are, in fact, coerced into treating oaths (and by extension, and to a degree, all promises) as worthless.

  36. Broga says:

    I think the saying, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” has much truth in it. Lies tend to catch up with you later. I also wonder about the nature of lies. They often seem to be to invent better backgrounds, exagerate qualifications and achievements. To what purpose? Most people don’t care much anyway and what difference does it make.

    Politicians are natural liars. They lie as a reflex. And what about lawyers? Are they professional liars or do all these defence lawyers really believe their clients are innocent.

    I think, if you can manage it, it is empowering to tell it as it is and let the cards fall where they may. If the people you are trying to impress are impressed they are probably not worth impressing anyway.

  37. Har Davids says:

    Duty to God and to the Queen in this day and age? What kind of a world are these people living in that they expect kids to utter these words? We’ve seen variations on this theme in the past (Gott und Führer) with terrible consequences. It should be enough if part of the oath would be a promise to try not to be a dick.

  38. […] Somerset lad barred from Boy Scouts because of his atheism ( […]

  39. Lazy Susan says:

    Buddhists may join the Scouts by making a promise to Dharma. But Dharma is not a god. It is a principle like Natural Law. It does not make much sense to promise to a principle (“I promise to uphold the Law of Gravity”) but it makes marginally more sense than promising to the Tooth Fairy or its existential equivalents.

    However this argument goes, it is clear that George has some regard for telling the truth. By singling him out as unfit to be a member because he refuses to lie, the Scouts do nothing but shoot themselves in the foot.

  40. shane tyson says:

    @ Matt Westwood. You have my support mate. I can understand where you were coming from in your early posts on the matter.

    It’s bloody ridiculous I can swear an ‘affirmation’ in court yet couldn’t join the Scouts.

    It’s the system that’s wrong. It needs to update quickly.