Cranford, NJ—On Tuesday, March 25, at about 1:15 PM, American Atheists Managing Director Amanda Knief and President David Silverman sought the services of a notary at the TD Bank in Cranford, New Jersey, to sign off on charitable organization registration forms from four states. American Atheists has used notary services from TD Bank at this location several times in the past without incident.
Upon learning that Ms. Knief and Mr. Silverman sought notary services, Assistant Store Manager and notary public Rute Gandarez verified that she was a sworn notary and directed Ms. Knief and Mr. Silverman to her desk. After a cursory examination of the paperwork, she questioned Ms. Knief briefly about the what kind of organization American Atheists was; Ms. Knief explained, as benignly as possible, its educational mission, advocacy for separation of religion and government, and shared details about the upcoming National Convention in Salt Lake City. Ms. Gandarez momentarily perused the forms to be notarized, then said she was unwilling to notarize them “for personal reasons.”
Ms. Gandarez explicitly stated that her refusal to provide notary service was “not business-related” and expressed that she was “allowed to refuse for personal reasons.”
Ms. Gandarez returned with another on-duty notary, John Dzeidzic, who at Ms. Gandarez’ direction, began notarizing the documents as Ms. Knief and Mr. Silverman signed them. Ms. Gandarez observed, standing over the desk; then asked Mr. Silverman if he needed any other assistance. When Mr. Silverman said no, she walked away. Mr. Silverman then questioned Mr. Dzeidic about Ms. Gandarez’ refusal, saying, “If she had refused us because we were Jews or Muslims, she would have been fired and thrown out of here.”
Mr. Dzeidzic responded by stating: “She’s allowed to refuse on personal reasons. If you’re unhappy, that’s why there are so many banks to go to.”
Ms. Gandarez’s statements to Ms. Knief and Mr. Silverman directly and unquestionably contradict TD Bank Vice President of Public Affairs Rebecca Acevedo’s claims the incident was a misunderstanding. “Our employee did not understand how to process this particular paperwork and needed help that, unfortunately, led to the miscommunication,” Acevedo told The New Jersey Star-Ledger.
If there was indeed a miscommunication, it took place internally somewhere between the Cranford branch and the TD Bank Public Affairs department. American Atheists’ leadership was told, explicitly, that the reason for the refusal, given by Ms. Gandarez herself, was not related to business.
“The bank has said that this is a ‘misunderstanding,’” Mr. Silverman said. “The easiest way for Ms. Gandarez and TD Bank to show us this is a misunderstanding is to demonstrate that to us. If Ms. Gandarez misspoke, she can apologize for this, express in her own words that she did not understand how to process the paperwork, and offer to notarize documents for us personally in the future.”
“At the corporate level,” Silverman continued, “TD Bank makes strong claims about valuing diversity as part of its corporate culture: TD Bank, this is your chance to do the right thing. Discrimination is never acceptable. Show us this is not about bigotry and we will believe you.”
American Atheists is in contact with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey to investigate the legality of this incident. Further, Ms. Knief, acting as a private citizen, is in the process of drafting legislation and will soon meet with a state legislator with the goal of enacting a law to ensure that this type of discrimination does not happen in the future to those at American Atheists nor to anyone else.