US bank refuses to notarise atheist documents

US bank refuses to notarise atheist documents

EARLIER this week, the Managing Director of American Atheists, Amanda Knief – together with AA’s President David Silverman – went into a TD Bank  branch in Cranford, New Jersey (where the American Atheists are headquartered) to have some documents notarised.

TD claims to be  “America’s Most Convenient Bank®”

The notary, on learning the godless nature of the paperwork placed before her, refused to sign it for “personal reasons”.

Said Silverman, in this report:

Amanda explained what we do, and (the notary) said, ‘Okay, well, I’m not going to do this for you. For personal reasons I’m not going to do this for you,’ and went to find someone else.’


And off she skipped to find a colleague who would notarise the documents, leaving Knief and AA’s President David Silverman feeling more than a little slighted. And angry.

In fact, Knief was so angry that she wrote about the incident on the AA Facebook page and said:

Time to write legislation that won’t let this happen to anyone else. Fuck this.

Silverman added:

It’s sad, because this is New Jersey, and it’s 2014, and we’re supposed to be beyond all this stuff. And TD Bank is supposed to be beyond all this stuff, they’re supposed to be a pro-diversity bank.

Rebecca Acevedo, TD Bank’s VP for public affairs, said:

Valuing diversity and building an inclusive environment is a fundamental part of TD’s culture. We treat all consumers fairly and with respect, and this instance was no different.

The entire issue was a misunderstanding that arose from the notary not knowing how to handle certain government documents, Acevedo explained.

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

The employee has not been disciplined, she said.

Hmmmm …

New Jersey has an extremely strong law against discrimination, according to ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas, which not only protects against discrimination toward someone who follows a certain religion, but also someone who does not follow one. He said:

This person’s job is to notarize documents. If she denied providing that service because she personally disliked the fact that this group did not ascribe to her religion, or religion in general, that would be against the law.

Whether or not the alleged refusal was illegal, Silverman said, it did run afoul of the first guiding principle in the Notary Public’s Code of Professional Responsibility, which 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.

Her added:

This person is state-licensed to do a public service, and she discriminated on basis of religion. I don’t think it should work this way. I don’t think people should go through a process to determine whether or not the notary approves of them.

Hat tip: Penigma

13 responses to “US bank refuses to notarise atheist documents”

  1. jay says:

    While this never should have happened, I strongly disagree with the “need to write new legislation ” bit. This is a problematic mindset … every time we are offended or slighted we turn to more and more intrusive government to make things more to our liking. And we find it disturbing when fundies play the same game.

    The incident should never have happened. And posting it on Facebook certainly was appropriate. But the bank DID provide the service. And we can always switch another bank while publicizing the issue.

    But please let’s not cry to the government, begging for more meddling because someone was a jerk.

    Law should be the tool of last resort, when no other solution is feasible.

  2. Brummie says:

    Hear, hear Jay. Too much legislation.

  3. tony e says:


    Well said.

    The last thing we need, is to end up like the christian’s finding ‘persecution’ in every slight.

  4. Broga says:

    The bank employee had probably never met an atheist before. Or at least someone who openly acknowledged their atheism. I suppose it came as a shock.

  5. charlie says:

    @Jay, absolutely, NO new laws. Good grief, we have too many idiotic laws in the US of A as is.
    They came up against a stupid, probably bigoted employee. Big damn deal, just change banks. Also, posting to farcebook was probably a fair idea, not sure as I refuse to use that disgusting thing. Why? Anything you post to farcebook belongs to farcebook to use as they wish. YES, everything you post there is theirs, it is in the user agreement. Screw farcebook AND the sheep it rode in on. Just my personal opinion, yours may vary.

  6. My take on this: no, there is no need for further legislation, just a need to act upon that which already currently exists.

    In the UK there have been some cases recently where people have refused to offer certain services because they would compromise their religious principles, and it has not gone well for them. This is as it should be, and the US should take a lesson, and make a further step forward in that long march towards a humanist and rationalist society.

  7. JohnMWhite says:

    As Matt Westwood said, there’s no need for further legislation, but I disagree with jay’s premise that we shouldn’t ‘go cry to the government because somebody was a jerk’. Somebody broke the law, and the government should get involved by enforcing the law they enacted. There’s no point having laws if there are no consequences for breaching them, or if there’s a perception that being upset at one’s rights being violated is ‘crying’. “Just change banks” is easy to say when you actually have access to more than one bank in your vicinity, and a car, and adequate free time.

    The bank’s explanation seems highly suspect. How does a situation escalate to the point where it is so badly misunderstood by both parties when one walks out the door? Either they are lying through their teeth, or somebody did a terrible job trying to smooth over the misunderstanding at the time.

  8. barriejohn says:

    JMW: I agree. Very well put.

  9. jay says:

    ” Somebody broke the law, and the government should get involved by enforcing the law they enacted. ‘

    I’m not sure a law was broken. She got someone else to do the task. Crying ‘discrimination’ about this matter is no different from the fundies crying ‘persecution’. Just as we tell the religious they don’t have a right to ‘not be offended’, the same principle applies to us. Get a grip.

    (And if a law was broken by such a simple behavioral problem, then indeed we have laws that are reaching FAR too much into personal behavior.)

    One cannot have a free society if every pressure group gets to force other to believe (or pretend to believe) exactly the way they view as correct (and the group that gets to pick what is ‘correct’ changes with the flows of time). Freedom is incompatible with enforced groupthink.

  10. Jay, read this again:

    ‘Okay, well, I’m not going to do this for you. For personal reasons I’m not going to do this for you, …’

    That is ILLEGAL.

    If, on the other hand, she had said “I’m going to need someone else to handle this because it’s outside of what I’m experienced in”, then that’s a different story.

    If a black had walked in and she’d said the same thing, would we be debating this now? I rather think not.

  11. Tim Epstein says:

    As it is the bank that is offering the service and not any particular individual within the bank, I don’t think that there are grounds for complaint on that count, as the requested service was delivered by the bank.

    It is a common business practice and personal right for an individual to be able to request that a particular service that they have an ethical or moral issue with be handled by someone else. I see that as being ok, as long as the customer does receive the service without discrimination.

    What I didn’t like was the bank’s highly unlikely explanation that the initial refusal was a “mis-understanding”.

  12. JohnMWhite says:

    Jay, you’re not really getting the objection at all and seem utterly wrapped up in your fear of pressure groups and libertarian-style paranoia. A law that prevents people from saying “I won’t serve you because you’re black/atheist/gay/Christian/female” is not enforced groupthink and it is not forcing anyone to believe anything. It’s ensuring equal treatment in the public sphere, which is necessary for a free society because some people are bigoted morons. You’re using this story as a platform to argue against a completely different thing.

    I have no idea why you think no law was broken. If we take Silver’s word for it, there can be no doubt as to what “personal reasons” led this clerk to refuse to serve an atheist. Discrimination in serving the public is illegal federally, in the constitutions of most states, and it is against the code of conduct of notaries in that state. Was MLK just crying to the government every time he sat at a whites-only lunch counter? Should everyone on those buses have just kept changing delis?