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Secular Oath in Justice System and Secular Promise for Brownies & Guides



BHA: Girl Guides, Rainbows, and Brownies promise to be inclusive of the non-religious


Brownies Promise

The Girl Guides, Rainbows and Brownies are for the first time inclusive of atheists and agnostics after a new Promise comes into force today which is, for the first time, inclusive of atheists and agnostics.

The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has worked closely with Girlguiding UK on the formulation of the new Promise, has welcomed the change.

The new Promise reads ‘I promise that I will do my best: to be true to myself and develop my beliefs, to serve the Queen and my community, to help other people and to keep the (Brownie) Guide Law.’ ‘To be true to myself and develop my beliefs’ replaces ‘to love my God’, which every member of the Guides, Rainbows and Brownies was required to promise, and which consequentially excluded many, many young people and adult volunteers from joining the movement.

The BHA met with Girlguiding UK about the new Promise and responded to the consultation. BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We very much welcome the new Promise coming into force from today, which for the first time means the movement is equally inclusive to all young people and adult volunteers, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs. Looking forward we will be working with the Guides to encourage our members and supporters to get involved in this fantastic movement.’


For further comment or information contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on 07855 380633 or

The BHA is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.
Girlguiding was one of the last major secular membership organisations in the UK to discriminate on grounds of religion and the ending of this exclusion is a remarkable event.
In 2006 and 2010, the Guides were granted an exemption from the Equality Act in order to allow them to continue to require their members to make a religiously discriminatory Promise excluding non-religious young people not believing in a god. The BHA led the campaign in both years to try to remove this exemption, working with the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group.

Before 2006 and since the BHA has long campaigned in favour of the Guides changing their Promise to be inclusive and requests for help and advice from parents encountering this problem with the Guides have remained one of the largest single categories of correspondence received by the BHA each year.

The BHA responded to the Girlguiding consultation and met with Girlguiding staff leading up to today’s change. Read the BHA’s response:


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Judges call for 1 secular oath for all

Scales Of Justice

Judges call for one secular oath for all

Magistrates are considering proposals to replace religious oaths and affirmations with a single oath for all defendants and witnesses.

At present, witnesses giving evidence in court either take a religious oath relevant to their particular religious beliefs, or a secular affirmation where the witness simply affirms that they will tell the truth.

A proposal to be debated at this year's Magistrates' Association AGM calls for all those giving evidence in court to make the same pledge. Supporters say this approach would make it fairer and more relevant for people to help them understand the importance of what they are saying.

Senior figures in the Church of England have criticised the proposal, claiming it represents another attempt to chip away at the country's Christian foundations.

The National Secular Society, however, has welcomed the move.

Stephen Evans, NSS campaigns manager, said: "Multiple religious and non-religious oaths unnecessarily make an issue out of a witness's religiosity in the courtroom. A single oath for all would protect witness of all religions and beliefs, including non-believers, from the potential religious prejudices of jurors. All witnesses should be on an equal footing, with cases decided on the evidence heard rather than the prejudices of those hearing it.

"Britain is not the Christian country it perhaps once was, so it is right that our institutions change to reflect this. Justice being done is the most important consideration, and this is a case where I'm sure most people of faith would be happy to swear the same oath as others, rather than insist that the legal system accommodate their religious preferences."

If the proposal is voted through at its October AGM, the Magistrates' Association will draw up plans to be sent to the Ministry of Justice. However, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "We have no plans to change the arrangements for swearing an oath or making an affirmation in court, which have worked well for many years and still does."

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Magistrates reject proposal for a single secular oath


Magistrates reject proposal for a single secular oath

The Magistrates Association has rejected a proposal from one of its members that it should end the swearing of oaths on holy books in court.

The Association debated the motion, which would have replaced Bible oaths with a promise from witnesses that they would "very sincerely tell the truth" but in the end voted against the proposal.

Witnesses will still be able to hold the Bible and say: "I swear by Almighty God [to tell] the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth".

Other faiths can take the oath on their own books – Muslims on the Koran, Jews on the Old Testament, for example.

Atheists are allowed to "solemnly, sincerely and truly affirm" instead of swearing.

The new proposal, which was put forward by Bristol magistrate Ian Abrahams, would have required witnesses and defendants to promise to tell the truth and say: "I understand that if I fail to do so, I will be committing an offence for which I will be punished and may be sent to prison".

The Magistrates Association represents about three quarters of the 23,000 magistrates.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, six of the President's seven nominees to the Council of State have made a submission to the Convention on the Constitution asking that it consider the appropriateness of office-holders having to take religious oaths.

The Irish Times reports:

The nominees point out that article 31.4 of the Constitution reads: "In the presence of Almighty God I . . . do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfil my duties as a member of the Council of State."

In their submission, the six say: "The respect due to religion and to those who profess religion is of course sacrosanct. But to require a citizen to publicly profess a faith — any faith — as a precondition to enter and hold public office serves neither religion nor the ideal of a public space open to all who are willing to contribute to the common good in a Republic."

Acting in their individual capacity, the submission was made on Monday by former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness; solicitor Michael Farrell; community activists Sally Mulready and Ruairí McKiernan; academic Prof Deirdre Heenan, and disability law expert Prof Gerard Quinn.

The President's seventh nominee to the council was historian Prof Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh.

The six said: "This issue came to our attention recently at the first meeting of the Council of State called by President Higgins (July 29th, 2013). Our core concern is the reference to religious beliefs in the relevant oaths and declarations as a pre-requisite to taking public office".

They were approaching the issue "from the perspective of what it means to take seriously the Republican form of Government . . . We are also conscious of the increasing diversity of our society today compared with society at the time the Constitution was adopted".

The requirements of article 31.4 "could exclude or cause embarrassment to atheists, agnostics and humanists. It could also be unacceptable to Quakers and other Christians who do not approve of religious oaths, and to members of some other non-Christian faiths", they said.

They further noted that "the Constitution requires similar declarations to be made by the President him or herself and all members of the judiciary" and that this too should be considered by the convention. The courts "already allow witnesses and members of juries to choose between taking a religious oath, under various forms, and making an affirmation with no religious references", they said.

The Council of State, which offers advice to the President when asked, comprises the appointed members, and senior office holders, including the Taoiseach and Chief Justice, as well as former such office holders and former presidents.

Welcoming the submission, Atheist Ireland recalled how at the Council of State's meeting last July, "Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore had to swear the religious oath, despite being publicly on record as saying that he does not believe in God. He said that he had taken legal advice, and that he had a constitutional obligation to swear the oath."

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "It was the founder of the NSS, Charles Bradlaugh, who succeeded in getting the Oaths Act passed in 1888. This gave everyone the right to affirm rather than swear a religious oath in parliament and in courts. It has taken a long time for institutions such as the Scouts and Guides to catch up, but they got there in the end. We hope that the Irish Constitutional Convention will grant the request of the six nominees to the council of state and bring Ireland into the nineteenth century". 


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