The managing director of American Atheists, Inc. reported on Tuesday that she was refused notary service at a TD bank in Cranford, NJ because of her atheist affiliation.
In a post on Facebook, Amanda Knief wrote, “I was just refused service — because I am an atheist. It was embarrassing, humiliating, and it pissed me off.”
According to Knief, she and American Atheists president David Silverman were in the process of getting documents notarized by one of the bank’s notaries public when the woman asked them what the documents were for.
“The documents were charitable organizations registrations for American Atheists in several states,” wrote Knief. “So I told her what AA is about. She looked down, then looked at me and Dave Silverman and said she couldn’t sign the documents because of ‘personal reasons’ and went to find another notary who was eating his lunch to come do the authentications.”
“I have been called names, threatened, hated on and all manner of ridiculed because of my atheist activism, but I think sitting in a bank and having another professional refuse to do business with me because I am an atheist was the worst slight I have ever received,” she continued. “This is completely unacceptable, and far from over.”
This was the first time, Knief said, out of “more than a dozen” visits to the bank that there have been any problems. Unfortunately, under current laws, what the notary public did was legal.
“In New Jersey, notaries are not required to abide by any code of conduct or ethics that prevents them from refusing service to people based on ‘personal reasons,’” explained Knief. “Even though we had a valid, legal document and valid, legal identification — she was legally able to refuse me service.”
The organization’s legal team is drafting proposed legislation to keep this kind of discrimination from happening again.
Update, 9:17 p.m. EST, March 27: Both TD Bank and American Atheists have released statements offering their interpretation of the encounter.
“Our employee did not understand how to process this particular paperwork and needed help that, unfortunately, led to the miscommunication,” Acevedo said.
But American Atheists responded by saying that the employee who refused to serve Knief and Silverman, whom they identified as Rute Gandarez, was an assistant manager at the branch.
“If there was some kind of miscommunication, it would seem to be somewhere internally, between her explaining what happened to the public relations department of this bank,” American Atheists spokesperson Dave Muscato told The Raw Story Thursday evening. “That’s not what happened to this bank.”
Muscato also said that while Knief is preparing legislation regarding discrmination by notary publics, she is not doing so on behalf of American Atheists. He also noted that the Notary Public’s Code of Professional Responsibility, while not legally binding, forbids notaries from discriminating based on religious beliefs.
“I think this is the right thing to do,” he said. “I think this is past due, and I hope this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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