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The Scouts Are Wrong to Imply Only the Religious can Behave Well

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George Pratt - an eleven year old - has been prevented from joining the Scouts because he does not believe in a god. Looking at the Scout policies it appears that a belief in any god will do but a lack of belief will not. This policy is wrong and does not reflect a modern society or the reality that people do not need religion to make them behave.

The Scout movement provides a fantastic opportunity for young people but they are wrong in what they have done here. The Scout movement claims to treat everyone equally but clearly it does not since they have discriminated against this young man.

Their implicit message appears to be that young people (or any people) cannot be trusted unless they believe in a god - and presumably - this is because they can only be trusted if they fear some sort of celestial retribution should they misbehave. More specifically they must fear that this particular young man will not be able to abide by their code of conduct because of his lack of belief.

I don't know George Pratt but I would hazard a guess that he is just like any other 11-year-old boy but perhaps is slightly more principled than most given his stance here. In reality I suspect this young man will not suffer unduly and indeed I hope he gains something from the experience of standing up for what he believes in (or doesn't in this case) - he should take pride in this. But this does not make the Scouts right in what they have done here. The Scouts it would seem are not impressed by a young man with principles.

This also suggests that those many fine young people who have sworn a religious oath have all behaved themselves and upheld their oaths because of their claimed religious believes - I suspect that this is not the case. This policy must actually encourage some young people to make the oath in spite of not holding religious beliefs.

Even if we accept that the Scout movement should be free to discriminate in this way then they should be more honest and admit that they do not believe in equality for all. They should be more open and say that they think that young people who do not believe or fear a god cannot be trusted to behave themselves around other Scouts - because these are the implications of their policies. If they don't believe that then why not let George join?

In fact - a Scouting policy document contains the following Note: With reference to religious belief, the avowed absence of religious belief is a bar to appointment to a Leadership position. This note is positioned below their claim to treat everyone (else) fairly - an interesting contradiction. Still this suggests that you can actually join as an avowed non-believer but you will not prosper - George did not even get that far.

So their position is as follows - if you do not believe in a god - you might get in but you are not going to get promoted - that we are all for equality - but just not for you.

Why not just leave the Scouts alone some will ask? I personally do not believe in any god or hold any beliefs that could be called religious but I do believe in the potential for good in people and that we are part of a vast and fascinating universe that does not need a god to make it better. We do not need to fear the punishment of a god to behave well and to do the right thing. The Scouts are a great organization full of good hard-working people but their policies discriminate against people like me - and more importantly George - for no good reason.

Is criticizing the Scouts for their position in fact discrimination against religious people? No it isn't because I am not arguing that they should lose anything except the ability to deny other people opportunities because of their beliefs.

In fact we are increasingly hearing the argument that to question the right of religious people to discriminate is in it-self discrimination - in public servants who will not counsel gay couples to religious organizations who claim marriage as their property alone to do with as they see fit and don't want gay people to get married or the religious people who don't want gay couples to stay as paying guests at their B and Bs.

The vast majority of people who believe in god, or gods, or in a life after death are decent people who do good and don't discriminate: but so are the majority of those that do not believe in these things and society (and the Scouts) should reflect that.