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Notary Bulletin

WWYD Answer: The Case Of The Racial Slur

Dilemma-resized.jpgLast week, we posed a scenario, The Case Of The Racial Slur, about a customer who made offensive racial insults targeting another customer wearing a hijab, a traditional Muslim garment. The question, given the man’s outrageous behavior, was: Do you hold your tongue and perform the notarization, or would you refuse it?

Just as a recent news story about a bank Notary who refused a notarization request from an Atheist met with controversy, this scenario also sparked a great deal of discussion and varying opinions within the NNA Facebook community.

Several Notaries, including California Notary Jim North and Oregon Notary Sue Grabowski, stated they’d stay out of the situation, as the statement was not aimed at the Notary and therefore not justification for a refusal. “I would ignore the comment and assist the person with what he came to the store to have done,” said Marian Harmon. “I may not like what he said, but he has every right to say whatever idiotic thing he wants. It's called free speech, and it is a Constitutional right.”

Suzanne Marie Torian Cole thought the Notary should probably comply with the request if she works for someone else, but could refuse if she worked for herself. Others, like Pennsylvania Notary Amy Brenner, said they’d take a stand against the signer, even if it compromised their job. “I would tell the person I was unable to notarize his documents,” said Brenner. “I would not stand for it. Period.”

Many Notaries, such as Alex Klebenow and Elie Rowe, said that they would be compelled to apologize to the woman for the behaviors of the rude individual, while Notary Wendy Brown said she’d go a step further and ask the man to apologize to the woman himself.

In the end, this situation may not be as cut-and-dry as it may seem. The ability of Notaries to refuse a lawful request differs from state to state. Some states have very specific provisions regarding when a Notary may refuse a request for a notarization. Others do not. So it’s important to understand what your laws and regulations require in circumstances like this.

In the absence of clear guidance from your state laws, the first guiding principle of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility states, “The Notary shall, as a government officer and public servant, serve all of the public in an honest, fair and unbiased manner.” Notaries serve their role as impartial witnesses and, as such, should not let their personal beliefs interfere with their duties.

Thus, in this case, while the Notary may find the words and actions of the signer to be offensive, it’s important to remember that the act of notarizing the customer’s documents in no way endorses the behavior of the signer. The Notary is simply performing his or her role in verifying the identity of the signer.

Whether or not you feel compelled to offer the offensive signer a piece of your mind — as many Notaries did in this scenario — is entirely up to you.

Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association.

Check out other installments of the NNA’s ongoing ‘What Would You Do’ series:

What Would You Do: The Case Of Soccer Mom's Missing ID
WWYD Answer: The Case Of The Soccer Mom's Missing ID

What Would You Do: The Case Of The Birth Certificate And The Near Newlyweds
WWYD Answer: The Case Of The Birth Certificate And The Near Newlyweds

What Would You Do: The Case Of The Missing Figures
WWYD Answer: The Case Of The Missing Figures

What Would You Do: The Case Of Healthy Signing Agent Competition
WWYD Answer: The Case of Healthy Signing Agent Competition

What Would You Do: The Case Of The Crowded Journal
WWYD Answer: The Case of the Crowded Journal

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