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American Atheists Faces Discrimination at TD Bank

Originally posted to Dan Arel’s website and reposted here with permission:

American Atheists faced a new kind of discrimination this week, from a Notary Public.

Managing Director Amanda Knief and President David Silverman walked into their local TD Bank to have some donation documents notarized and the notary turned them away for “personal reasons.”

Many wondered what would happen if an atheist had refused service to a Christian because of personal reasons. This story would be national and a public outcry against such discrimination would ensue. This role reversal would not be tolerated, and it shouldn’t be, just as what happened should not be tolerated.

Knief had this comment about how the incident made her feel:

“I have never had someone tell me to my face that she won’t assist me because of who I am. Though that says more about her than me–I am human and it was hurtful, like I was something so awful that putting her name next to mine would taint her somehow.”

While it does not appear the notary broke any New Jersey laws, Knief vowed to fight to make sure this sort of discrimination does not happen in the future. Taking to her Facebook she said:

“Time to write legislation that won’t let this happen to anyone else. [Expletive] this.”

“This is completely unacceptable, and far from over.”

American Atheists are outraged because they did not ask the Notary to endorse any belief and simply asked that they verify the people in front her them are who they claimed to be. To turn them away because of the business they run is simply unacceptable. A Notary Public works for the state, not for his or her personal beliefs.

When reached for comment Knief had this to say about the Notary Public’s actions”

“Notaries are given state licenses to authenticate signatures in order to further public and private business transactions. Nothing about a notary’s signature implies endorsement or approval of the documents or the person whose signature is being authenticated. To have a notary refuse to do an authentication because of personal reasons means that notaries can pick and choose which people they think deserve their services–where do we draw the line? What if no notary wants to authenticate documents for women? For Jews? For African Americans?”

While many online called for the firing of this notary or that atheists return the favor and discriminate against Christians the real solution is policy change and not allowing anyone to discriminate based on religious beliefs.

When asked about firing the notary or discriminating against Christians Knief commented:

“We don’t want anyone to be fired. We want to turn this incident of rejection into one of education and an opportunity to demonstrate how intolerance begins,” she continued, “I would not want anyone to feel the way I did when the notary refused to do business with me. I don’t want any atheists or others who are sympathetic to do the same things to religious people. I would never do that to someone–I have never done that to any religious person when I worked retail or sales. When I worked for the Iowa Legislature, I wrote many bills that I did not agree with because that was my job. I can’t imagine telling a state senator “sorry, I can’t write this bill for personal reasons.” I signed up to do a job–and I did it.”

TD Bank has now issued a statement in response to this incident, though they share a very different story. Rebecca Acevado, vice president of public affairs for TD Bank said in the statement:

“Our employee did not understand how to process this particular paperwork and needed help that, unfortunately, led to the miscommunication.”

This statement however contradicts the very interaction described by both Knief and Silverman. In a statement today released by American Atheists, the interaction was further described as follows:

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.”

This encounter does not demonstrate a confusion of the services needed, but an unwillingness to do her job.

After walking away, Ms. Gandaez returned, as the American Atheists statement continues:

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.”

This series of events completely undermines the statement made by Acevado, if Ms. Gandarez was confused why would she find the need to seek out someone else to handle the job and not simply find clarification.

This type of discrimination is unlawful, discrimination by a public servant, as a notary is, based on sex, sexual orientation, race or religion should not be tolerated. In fact, the Notary Public’s Code of Professional Responsibility, reads: The notary shall not refuse to perform a lawful and proper notarial act because of the signer’s race, nationality, ethnicity, citizenship, religion, politics, lifestyle, age, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

As Knief made clear the duty of a notary is not to endorse the business of the paperwork she is notarizing but to authenticate the authenticity of those signing it. Ms. Ganderez allowed her personal religious beliefs to lead to her outright discrimination and her employer to blatantly lie to cover up any such action.

American Atheists have reached out the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey to discuss any further action involving this incident and Amanda Knief herself has decided to draft legislation and meet with state lawmakers that will make sure no one else in New Jersey will have to face humiliation and discrimination based on a persons religious beliefs or lack of.


Dan Arel is a freelance writer who writes Op-Ed pieces for AlterNet and The Huffington Post. He is also a Special Correspondent for American Atheists, has a column called Danthropology in American Atheists Magazine and is also a contributing writer and editor for The Richard Dawkins Foundation. He writes on atheism, religion, science, and politics and has a book for secular parents coming out in late 2014 on Dangerous Little Books.