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Atheist family upset over Brownie Promise claim

By East Grinstead Courier  |  Posted: August 11, 2011

A PROMISE IS A PROMISE: Madaleine Willett, of Hawarden Close in Crawley Down, has been prevented from making the Brownie promise

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TWO atheists are considering pulling their daughter out of the Brownies – in a row over whether she should have to make a vow to God.

Because she does not want to claim a religious belief, Maddie Willett asked to change the wording when she made her Brownie Promise.

But the seven-year-old was prohibited from doing so by a leader at the 2nd Crawley Down Brownies.

Her parents, Juliette and Barry, say their daughter now feels like she doesn't fit in as all her friends have been able to make their promises.

Brownies are asked to pledge: "I promise that I will do my best, to love my God, to serve the Queen and my country, to help other people and to keep the Brownie Guide law."

Juliette, from Hawarden Close in the village, cannot understand why the wording could not be tweaked.

She said: "We don't have a belief in God and our daughter is yet to make a decision.

"It's a big decision for her to make and it would be offensive for an atheist to say they love God."

Maddie has been with the group for about six months and was due to make her promise on July 19.

"It's a really big thing to take the Brownie Promise and that's what has bothered me the most," Juliette added.

"She's incredibly upset at the idea that she can't be a fully fledged Brownie," said Juliette.

"The biggest thing for her is that she feels excluded."

The couple are keen for their youngest daughter, Mia, 5, to join the Brownies when she turns seven, but admit they may face the same obstacle.

Juliette said: "Maddie wants to stay in the Brownies because a lot of her friends go there, but she feels very upset that she's being forced to say a word that she doesn't want to.

"We will either let it go or I will take her out of Brownies, because we are going to hit this problem again when she comes to Girl Guides and when Mia joins the Brownies."

Nobody from the 2nd Crawley Down group wished to comment this week.

But a Girlguiding UK spokesman suggested that Maddie should have been allowed to change the wording.

He said: "Girlguiding UK does not require girls or young women to follow any particular faith, and not having a defined faith does not preclude membership.

"Our volunteer leaders work with girls and young women when they join us to explore the fuller meaning of the promise and decide if they are ready to make that promise.

"The promise has evolved to explicitly include members with different beliefs and another name can be substituted for God to make the promise more meaningful to each girl or woman.

"In these cases it is recommended that our volunteer leaders discuss the wording of the promise with the girl and an adult with parental responsibility."

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  • Noggie_18  |  March 11 2012, 7:33PM

    LydneyLass - thanks for the comment! It's not silly to argue that 'my God' can refer to anything - that is what I teach students at school. The term 'God' is down to interpretation & it is generally people who do not believe in God (not necessarily atheists) who interpret God to mean a supernatural deity - plenty of people worship money as their God. What about Paganists who have a polytheistic belief in God? The term God in the Brownie promise does not exclude anyone, but encourages young people to think about their beliefs. Besides, parents are meant to discuss with their daughter the promise when they first start Brownies & that should include their belief in God & what that means to them. Obviously this is a futile discussion, since we are both adamant on our point of view. All I know is that it is down to interpretation & also the actual unit & leaders itself. It is unfair to suggest that all Brownie/Guiding units would do the same. That said, as a Brownie Leader I do feel the promise is inclusive & have yet to come across any parent that does truly have an issue with it, once discussed properly.

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  • LydneyLass  |  February 29 2012, 4:21PM

    Noggie_18 - It's silly to argue that 'my God' could refer to anything other than a supernatural deity. You're just playing with words; the Brownie promise is NOT inclusive - and, when we're talking about chidren, that's hardly something to be proud of.

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  • Noggie_18  |  February 23 2012, 10:18PM

    I think the point should be made that she wasn't being expected to say that she believes in God, or that she would love God. The wording of the Guiding promise is such that it does include everyone, religious or not - it says to love MY God - not necessarily a religious God. People all over the world worship things as if they are gods (celebrities for one) & don't have to believe in God; there is a difference, which should be recognised before people make judgement calls. It is down to interpretation & open-mindedness to understand the promise in the way it is meant. I run a Brownie unit (& have done for the last 10 years) & never have we encountered any issues over the promise. That said, I additionally teach RE at a secondary school & the whole believing in God thing is a contentious issue, however, I do not think that the Guiding promise should be changed because someone does not want to say 'to love MY God' - the whole point is that is a personal God, who- or what-ever that may be!

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  • LydneyLass  |  September 06 2011, 10:03PM

    The Brownies will accept a member of any religion....... but not someone with no religion - what's the message here? 'It's a good thing to believe in a god (absolutley any god you want) but it's unacceptable to believe in no god at all. It sounds nuts to me.

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  • Judge1970  |  August 31 2011, 3:32PM

    Presumably the anti-aetheist commentators here also believe in the tooth fairy, father christmas, et al?? Utterly ridiculous that in the 21st century anybody, particularly a 7 year old child, should have to be brainwashed by zealots who believe in a bloke with a white beard & a 2000 year old middle-eastern carpenter, not to mention the sexist, male dominated, homophobic clergy. The mind boggles!! Respect for the Willets & all other people with an ounce of common sense!

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  • MrJameson  |  August 20 2011, 8:22PM

    "The point there is that she has joined an organisation where she does not believe in the fundamental point of the organisation. It would be the same as joining a football team and asking them to change the rules of football." The rules of football have been changed before but not because a player asked for them to be. Perhaps the organization should change to adapt to modern times then. That way there would be a lot less people telling porkies so that they can stay in the Brownies (not the best lesson is it?). Or did church attendance levels suddenly shoot up recently when I wasn't looking? Let's have a look - From whychurch.org.uk: "Belief in the UK We all know that church attendance has been falling and 50 years ago over half of people in the UK would go to Church. While belief in Christianity may have declined at 58% of the population it can still claim to have a majority of the population. Atheists and Agnostics represent 33% of the population and are still in the minority." Strange that they claim 33% are atheists or agnostics but their own site puts attendance at 6% of the population. Not 'real' christians then I assume. Unless of course the rest have their own wee chapels in the garden. Yes, that'll be it. Good job too really, otherwise the churches would be full to the brim with the parents of Brownies.

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  • mustcomment  |  August 19 2011, 2:19AM

    When there are currently half a million members of Girlguiding UK, why should one family complain about the wording of the promise? If the child feels they are unable to complete the promise, she should not do so. Whether she then decides to continue in Brownies is another issue. The point there is that she has joined an organisation where she does not believe in the fundamental point of the organisation. It would be the same as joining a football team and asking them to change the rules of football. This article has caused much debate among Guide leaders, and has led to some leaders questioing their own ability to be Guide Leaders. With waiting lists currently topping 50,000, we can ill afford for even one leader to go because of this. If she doesn't want to be in the Brownies move over and make space for someone that does.

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  • mike_zzz  |  August 18 2011, 2:58PM

    Angry or not, that was p poor.

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  • SusanAJ  |  August 16 2011, 11:58AM

    Like so many others, I wasn't going to comment on this article, but I feel now that I have to. It is not essential to make the Promise to belong to Girlguiding UK. Maddie can still participate fully in the programme for 7-10 year olds without having to say the words " my god". As a member association of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, Girlguiding UK's Promise for members has to have a spiritual dimension. The wording chosen in the UK is "to love my god" but the phrase "my god" may be substituted where, in a religion, another name which is more commonly used, in order to make the Promise more meaningful to each girl. In these cases it is recommended that the Leader discusses the wording of the Promise with the girl and an adult with parental responsibility for her. To use the word family in place of god would, therefore, not really be an acceptable amendment, since "family" is not used as another name for "god" in Atheism. Our National Curriculum in the UK requires daily whole school worship of a broadly Christian nature, and most Locally Agreed RE Syllabii are the same. Maddie's family have the right to remove her from these aspects of her education, not to demand that the systems change to suit their lack of religious belief. The same is true of Girlguiding UK's wording.

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  • sussexfan  |  August 15 2011, 9:48AM

    It seems strange to me in this day and age when any faith is acceptable that having no faith is not. Imagine if this article was about a young muslim girl being excluded from Brownies because she would not promise to a Christian God, there would be an uproar and quite rightly so! So when an atheist child does not want to promise a Christian God why is there such a backlash? What some of the commenters are failing to realise is that no child chooses their faith initially. They are indoctrinated into the ideology belonging to their parents. Sadly many of them are not able to question this. In this case, Maddie is born into a family who are Atheists. She is being supported by her parents in her journey on whether this is right for her or not. Instead of Maddie's parents teaching Maddie to be a hypocrite and blindly swear to something she doesn't believe in, she is being encouraged to explore what she believes to be right for her. This happens to be in alignment with what her parents believe. Brownies is an excellent social group that equips girls with many skills. One of the values is to be accepting of others. All faiths and beliefs should be respected and valued, even those who don't 'believe'. There are many children who are also the children of Atheists who will also be in the same predicament. Maddie and her parents are raising awareness of an important issue which is "all beliefs are equal, but some beliefs are more equal than others". Something I hope we can all agree is wrong and should be changed.

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