The Polish Scouting Association’s (ZHP) recent decision to allow recruits to omit the word “God” from their oath has drawn criticism from Catholic clergy and a minister in Poland’s national-conservative government, who warns that “attempts are being made to implement atheist ideology”.
Last month, the ZHP – which, with around 100,000 members, is Poland’s largest scouting organisation – decided at its annual congress to give scouts a choice between the current oath, in which they swear to “serve God and Poland”, or a new alternative one that omits mention of God.
“As an organisation, we want to give young people the opportunity to look for their own path,” wrote the ZHP in a statement. “Establishing a version that…omits the word ‘God’ will legitimise the accession of people who are not ready to define their faith, but are still looking for it.”
It noted that the decision had come “after a long discussion” and consultations with instructors since 2014. “The ZHP is a constantly evolving organisation that discusses issues that are important to its members” and allows “instructors to democratically decide on the most important matters”, it wrote.
One instructor in favour of the change was Sub-scoutmaster Adrian Przyczyna, who told critics that, if they think the new oath “threatens God, then you have a very weak God”, reports liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza.
The decision was, however, also met with opposition from within the ZHP. The organisation’s pastoral council – made up of seven Catholic priests – warned that the change “can even be perceived as discrimination consisting of open de-Christianisation…[which] over time will result in the atheisation of members and not only moral but ideological conflicts”, reports Catholic weekly Niedziela.
“We assess the change negatively, believing that it serves primarily to remove Christian values[,]…undermine the identity of the Polish scout, and violate a more than one-hundred-year-old tradition of scouting, which was clearly oriented towards God and Christian values,” they continued.
The issue was also mentioned by Archbishop Jan Romeo Pawłowski, an official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, who during holy mass in Piekary Śląskie last week cited it as an example of the dangers of faith being pushed out of public life.
Yesterday, the critics were joined by a government minister, Jan Dziedziczak, who serves as a secretary of state in the prime minister’s office. The change made by the ZHP is a “very sad” and “bad decision”, he told Radio Poznań.
Dziedziczak agreed with the pastoral council that this is part of an effort to remove Christian values. “There is no such thing as ideological neutrality,” he said. “Often, under the slogan of ideological neutrality, attempts are made to implement atheist ideology…to build a world without God.”
He noted that the founder of the scouting movement, Robert Baden-Powell, and the founders of scouting in Poland, Olga Małkowska and Andrzej Małkowski, regarded “scouting as inextricably linked with Christian upbringing”.
The ZHP, however, notes that other scouting movements around the world have introduced optional alternative oaths that do not mention God. One group to do so, in 2013, was the Scout Association in the UK, originally founded a century earlier by Baden-Powell.
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.