Girl Guide groups who accept the new "secularist" promise, which does not include a reference to God, should no longer be allowed to use Church premises for free, religious leaders have said.
The row over the use of religious imagery in the promise made by all girl guides has seen several Brownie and Guide groups go "rogue" - and continue using the word "God" in the promise.
A Girl Guide group at St Paul’s United Reformed Church in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, were the first to go public with their decision not to replace ‘to love my God’ with ‘to be true to myself and develop my beliefs’ and ‘to serve my country’ with ‘to serve my community’ in the promise.
Members Of The Girlguiding Organisation (file photo)
"You would not join the Lawn Tennis Association and insist they had to make provision for all other sports. Girlguiding has God at its core and anyone who has issue with this is free to start their own organisation," the group said in a letter to the Harrogate Advertiser.
Former Brownie and Girlguide, Jem Henderson, who is n atheist, told the National Secular Society she joined the Harrogate Girlguides as a volunteer leader in June after hearing about the introduction of a new secular Promise.
But the leader of the group, Hazel Mitford, told Henderson in a letter that it would be "sticking with the previous Promise".
"The pack leader's insistence on keeping the old promise excludes me and any other atheist girls from the troop, or asks us to lie when making the promise, something that surely goes against the Guiding principles.
"This demonstrates that the new promise is just for show, and that the Guiding movement, at least in Harrogate, is still excluding people from secular walks of life," she said.
The groups risk expulsion from the Girlguiding UK for not adopting the new promise.
God has been included in the Promise since the Guides began in 1910. The original phrase was ''do my duty to God'', and this was changed to ''love my God'' in 1994.
Rev Brian Hunt, minister of the church where Harrogate Guides have met for around 50 years, told the Telegraph he allowed the group to use the Church free of charge because "they’ve always tried to look after the whole person – body, mind and soul – and we encourage that. I don’t think, in fairness, that Girl Guides can expect churches to provide premises for free when they don’t believe in God.”
Rev Paul Williamson of St George's Church in Feltham, Middlesex, originally mooted the idea of banning Girl Guide groups who use the secular promise in a letter to the Church Times.
"I ask how any priest can allow them — now — to meet on church premises, when the Girl Guide movement publicly cuts out the promise to God taken for nearly 100 years by all leaders and members. To allow the use of church halls to such a movement is hypocrisy, and gives out a message — from the Church itself — that God does not matter," he wrote.
“If the Guide promise does not mention God, I cannot see why they should be on Church premises,” he told the Telegraph.
“The Girl Guide Association does not realise what it’s done. It has not thought through the consequences and has made itself look ridiculous.”
A spokesman for Christian Concern, a lobby group and legal adviser for Christians in public life, said it was "understandable that some church leaders won’t be happy providing premises if the Guides are so insistent on keeping God out of the movement.
“It puts the movement at odds with Christian belief as well as its original Christian ethos.”
Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society said: "The introduction of one secular Promise for all was a hugely positive and welcome development. It is disgraceful that some within the movement are letting their personal beliefs stand in the way of the clear will of the organisation and the vast majority of people that took part in the consultation.
"Girlguides were very clear in their wish for all members to make the same Promise. We therefore trust the organisation will ensure all units implement the new promise without fail to ensure Girlguiding is equally welcoming to all girls, whatever their religious beliefs."