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Should Finnish police be allowed to wear religious headgear?

"I think we should make it possible for all Finns to apply for police service," said one Interior Ministry leader.

Fardowsa Mohamud raised the issue of the military's ban on head scarves. Image: Antti Kolppo / Yle

The Interior Ministry is currently investigating whether religious headgear, such as hijab scarves, could be worn as part of a police uniform. The results of the probe could possibly also extend to the uniforms of the Rescue Services and the Border Guard.

The issue of religious headgear as part of uniforms was raised last week by 20-year-old Fardowsa Mohamud, who said her dream of performing voluntary military service was crushed by the institution's ban on head scarves. In Finland, neither the military nor police can display religious symbols, including clothing, while in uniform.

An investigation into whether or not religious clothing should be allowed began last year but discontinued when the person conducting the study was transferred to other duties. According to Interior Ministry Chief of Staff Kirsi Pimiä, the investigation has been continued this spring.

Until now, the ban on the use of scarves has been substantiated by the fact that the police uniform should be unvarying, identifiable and neutral. Neutrality is related, among other things, to the absence of religious, political or ideological symbols.

"We are now considering whether these principles exclude certain groups," said Pimiä.

The uniform changes with the times

As part of the report, an evaluation of scarf use experiences in different countries has been made, as well as an analysis of the dress codes and criteria that these uniforms are based on. Police uniforms are regulated by law.

The report also examines whether the wearing of a head scarf could be a safety risk for the person wearing it, for example in the event of force being used. If wearing a head scarf were allowed, the police would provide those willing to wear a uniformed scarf with carefully considered material and other properties.

Practices on religious symbols vary from country to country. For example, Britain and Sweden allow headscarves as part of police uniforms. The matter came up for assessment by the Finnish Interior Ministry when applicants to the Police University of Applied Sciences expressed their desire to wear the hijab.

"Even a uniform changes with time. With the introduction of female police, the dress code was modified. I think we should make it possible for all Finns to apply for police service," said Pimiä.

Pimiä hopes that the report will be completed during the summer, after which it will be discussed within the Interior Ministry.

"The matter will either end there or it will move forward. If we are able to a take a positive approach, my hope is that the issue will be addressed more broadly by the state. It would be good to consider applying this to anyone who wears a uniform," said PImiä.

According to Pimiä, the government's goal has been to include people from different ethnic backgrounds on the police force in order to strengthen trust between cultures. In 2019, the principal of the Police University of Applied Sciences stated that an increasingly multicultural Finland would need more police officers with an understanding of different cultures.

"I think allowing head scarves could be one part of it," said Pimiä.

Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) has not responded to Yle’s request for a comment.