In July 2012, Girl Guides Australia changed the promise all Girl Guides have to make, by removing the compulsory mention of “God”. After seeing this news, I looked up the GirlGuiding New Zealand website to find if they had a similar compulsory mention, and found that they had.
Although I am obviously ineligible to be a Girl Guide, as an atheist I can understand how being told you have to make a promise to a god in order to become a member of a group could make one feel unwelcome. Similar to if I were asked to swear with my hand on a Bible, it would feel dishonest to do so. As such, it feels rather discriminatory, whether intended that way or not.
After seeing that Girl Guides Australia had made this change, I sent the following message to GirlGuiding New Zealand in July 2012:
To whom it may concern,
I was rather shocked to discover recently that your organisation includes in its promise (the recitation of which is apparently a requirement for membership) the words “with the help of my God”. While I commend the fact that, right after mentioning this on your site, it is specified that members of other religions may alter the wording (http://www.girlguidingnz.org.nz/what-we-do/promise-law/) to better suit their specific religion, I’m rather concerned that this seems intended to either discriminate against or actively discourage irreligiosity and atheism in your membership.
After the recent news that Girl Guides Australia have removed (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-05/girl-guides-drop-queen-god-from-promise/4113022) any compulsory mention of “God” from their Guide Promise, I’m hopeful that you might follow in their exemplary footsteps. I’ve never been given any other reason to believe that your organisation might harbour such an inappropriate agenda, and as such I fully expect that this is simply an anachronistic artifact from an old tradition. I thought I might suggest that, in light of the change made by Girl Guides Australia, you might consider that it is time for your organisation to make a similar change.
A week later, I received the following response from Susan Coleman, the CEO of GirlGuiding New Zealand:
Dear Mr Hanna
Thank you for your email regarding the inclusion of the words “with the help of my god” in the GirlGuiding New Zealand promise.
GirlGuiding New Zealand, Nga Kohine Whakamahiri o Aotearoa, is an organisation for girls and young women aged 5 to 18 years old, whatever their race, religion, ethnicity or background and there is no intention of discriminating against or discouraging any personal belief. The objectives of the organisation include the development of the whole girl, promoting self-confidence and growth through fun, friendship and learning experiences in life-skills, leadership and decision-making in a safe supportive environment. An individual’s beliefs, family cultures and circumstances are respected and Guiding embraces all aspects of the diversity of New Zealand society.
At this time, there is no intention to consider changing our promise.
I didn’t find that response very encouraging, although I hadn’t expected my email alone to prompt them to change their promise. Today, 2 years later, I saw a news article with the headline GirlGuiding removes God from pledge. I’d encourage you to read the whole article, but here’s the gist:
God has been removed from the promise recited by all members of GirlGuiding New Zealand, after more than a century of being mentioned.
The move, which took place in April this year, has raised barely a ripple of dissent.
I wonder if the lack of comment may be in part due to the lack of fanfare; notice that the change was made in April but this news article was published in October. This is their new promise:
I promise to do my best,
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs,
To live by the Guide Law
And take action for a better world.
For context, here is the Guide Law:
As a Guide I will try to
- be honest and trustworthy
- be friendly and cheerful
- be a good team member
- be responsible for what I say and do
- respect and help other people
- use my time and abilities wisely
- face challenges and learn from experiences and
- care for the environment.
Particularly now that the unnecessary inclusion of a god has been removed, I think this is a great thing for young girls (and the rest of us too) to aspire to.
Well done GirlGuiding New Zealand for making this change!