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Equal Opportunities Policy: Guidelines with reference to Young People: Religious belief

1. Policy

No young person should receive less favourable treatment on the basis of, nor suffer disadvantage by reason of, his or her religious belief.

2. Scouting Principles

The Aim of The Scout Association is to promote the development of young people so that they can achieve their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potentials. A belief in the spiritual aspect of human beings and a belief in a spiritual power greater than any human being is fundamental to World Scouting.

This belief is demonstrated by young people when they make their Promise. As Scouting, both in the United Kingdom and world-wide, is open to followers of all faiths the wording of the Promise takes into account the different religious obligations of the Association's Members. Therefore, a young person can promise to do his or her duty 'to God' (suitable for most faiths, including Christians, Jews and Sikhs), 'to my Dharma' (Hindu and Buddhist) or 'to Allah' (Orthodox Muslim).

To enable young people to grow into independent adults the Scout Method encourages young people to question what they have been taught. Scouts and Venture Scouts who question God's existence, their own spirituality or the structures and beliefs of any or all religions are simply searching for spiritual understanding. This notion of a search for enlightenment is compatible with belief in most of the world's faiths. It is unacceptable to refuse Membership, or question a young person's suitability to continue to participate fully in a Section, if they express doubts about the meaning of the Promise.

As a multi-faith organisation, Scout Leaders and other Volunteers need to consider the religious observances practised by all Members of their Section, Group or District. The planning and the delivery of the programme should take into account the prayer and worship, dietary requirements and behavioural rules as practised by all those participating in the programme.

3. Restrictions to youth Membership on the basis of religious belief

It is not acceptable to deny entry to, or persuade a young person to leave, the Movement because of his or her religious beliefs.

However, the Religious Policy of the Association prohibits Membership to anyone who denies the spiritual side of human beings or the existence of a spiritual power greater than any human being. It may also be acceptable to ask a young person to leave the Movement if:

  • the young person is putting unfair pressure on other young people to conform to a particular set of beliefs or to join another faith community (in such case 'unfairness' needs to be judged by the effect of that pressure on other members);
  • the young person expresses their beliefs in a way that is in conflict with the fundamental principles of the Association.

The Scout Association permits places of worship, schools and other community based organisations to sponsor Scout Groups and some limit their Membership to young people associated with the Sponsoring Authority. These Groups are an important part of Scouting, and complement other local Groups who offer Membership to all local young people, whether they are associated with places of worship, schools and other local organisations or not.

4. Problems for Commissioners

  1. All the Groups in a District are sponsored by or associated with one faith, therefore a young person of a different faith is denied access to Scouting.

    In such case, Commissioners should first ensure that there is not a suitable Group - either an existing multi-faith Group or a Group which is willing to become a multi-faith Group. If there is not a suitable Group, then Commissioners could approach the young person s community to sponsor a new Group or encourage the District to develop an unsponsored multi-faith Group.

  2. A Leader does not allow young people with different beliefs or practices to himself or herself to join the Section.

    Commissioners should first provide training and discussion sessions for Leaders to enable them to run a multi-faith Section. Commissioners can also help the Group to recruit new Leaders from other faiths not currently represented.

  3. A Leader is seriously concerned about a religious practice that a young person has shown an interest in, either because it appears to be a cult or because of the effect it is having on that young person's life.

    Leaders should talk the situation through with a colleague and get advice from the Scouting Values Department at Headquarters. The Leader should discuss his or her informed concerns with the young person and his or her family.

  4. Religious leaders associated with a Group (usually as a Sponsoring Authority) complain that a decision made by the Scout Leaders, or the way the Leaders run the Group, are not acceptable.

    This situation can be avoided by ensuring that a Sponsoring Authority is clearly briefed on the Policy and Rules of the Association before an agreement is made, and kept up to date on any changes. However, where this situation does occur, Commissioners should first determine the issue which forms the basis of the complaint. They can then mediate a discussion on that issue, and that issue alone, with both the Sponsoring Authority and the Leaders.

  5. Leaders fail to recognise the diversity of faith and religious practices of Members in their programme.

    This could be shown by closing every meeting by saying the Lord's Prayer or always using a standard camp menu which does not have Kosher, vegetarian or Halal options. Solutions must be based on discussion with the Leadership with additional training on the Association's policy on spiritual development and the multi-faith nature of the Movement. Commissioners should also help Leaders find alternatives, for example different ways to close a meeting, multi-cultural recipes.

5. References and Resources

Further Information

  1. Further information on religious belief is available from the Scouting Values Department and the National Chaplaincy Team at Gilwell Park, or from your County Chaplaincy Team.

  2. Advice about acceptable and unacceptable faiths and cults is offered by the Scout Values Department at Headquarters.

  3. Information on local faith communities is usually available in local libraries and places of worship. The Inter-faith Directory gives contact information on local associations or branches of national organisations who will give information on specific faiths. Your Local Education Authority, and the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE), will also be able to tell you how religious education is taught in your local schools.

  4. Alternative wording of the Promise for different faiths is given in Rule 1.1 in Policy, Organisation and Rules.


  1. Fact sheets on Scouting and faith communities, currently Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Rastafari, are available from the Scout Information Centre or from the Scouting Values Department.

  2. The SHAP Working Party on World Religions in Education publishes an annual calendar of festivals which will list the appropriate dates for a particular year. The calendar is available from the SHAP Working Party, c/o National Societies RE Centre, 36 Causton Street, London SW1P 4AU. Tel. 020 7932 1194.

  3. The Equal Opportunities Policy Case Studies includes examples of religious beliefs held by young people in Scouting. The Pack is available from the Scout Information Centre.

  4. God are You still in There looks at spiritual development within Scouting. The pack is available from Scottish Headquarters.

Within the Equal Opportunities Policy a 'Young Person' refers to someone participating in the youth programme. It should be noted that it is therefore possible for a Young Person to be older than an 'Adult' and for an individual to be both a Young Person and an Adult
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