Soapbox Mike Lake: Allow children to make informed decisions about belief
IN October, an 11-year-old boy from Radstock, in Somerset, was rejected by the Scouts because he asked to take the Scout oath without the "God" word.
I read that "his parents put him up to it – they don't want him to think for himself", "there can't be any atheist children – they don't know enough about religion to make up their minds", along with anecdotes such as "I felt the fun of being a Scout was worth more than complaining about a few words".
I'll leave you to think about the remark "there can't be any atheist children …" in the context of what we hear about "Christian children", "Muslim children", "Hindu children" etc.
I have carefully read what the young man said and I am convinced he is standing up for what he feels is important. My own experience of teaching shows that many young people do know what principles are – which is more than can be said of most politicians.
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All the religious parents I know try to persuade their children to follow their religion and I am sure there are many atheist parents who say that religious ideas are nonsense – as do I. However, all the atheist parents I know tend to say "yes, we think it's nonsense, but we want our children to find out about as many religions as possible so they can make up their own minds".
I don't know any atheist parents who send their children to atheist schools (are there any atheist schools?) so they do not come into contact with people from other beliefs. All the atheist parents I know support good RE teaching – as long as it does not try to tell children what to believe. On the other side, I know many religious schools that would be deeply unhappy and fearful of inviting non-religious speakers – despite it being a requirement of the Derby and Derbyshire RE syllabuses.
Those of us on the non-belief side of the fence want everyone to find out about as wide a range of beliefs as possible – that's why we support the excellent work done by organisations like Derby Open Centre. We want people to make informed decisions about what they believe.
This overt discrimination by the Scouts on the grounds of belief is legal because religious organisations are exempt from whole sections of anti-discrimination legislation – which is why the Church of England is not dragged before an industrial tribunal over the issue of women bishops. It is time the law applied to everyone.
I have sympathies for the boy from Radstock. In the 1950s I was not allowed to join Cubs for the same reason – Akela wanted us to pray at the start of each session, I said "no", she took offence, I lasted two weeks.
Eventually I joined the Sea Cadets. They asked me "religion?", I replied "atheist", they wrote down "C of E", everyone was happy and I got to drive very large boats around in the English Channel!