Seven national secular groups, meaning their members are either atheist or advocate for separation of
church and state, gather this week with many others to protest Wells Fargo’s history of discrimination. We
protest an April 2014 incident where a Wells Fargo branch, at 1121 South Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas,
denied notary public services to John Whiteside, an atheist and founder of a minority church whose
mission rejects God. John is a decorated veteran who won the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism in
combat. Discrimination against atheists, called atheophobia or secularphobia, is bigotry and should be
rejected by society like it rejects homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and racism. We ask Wells
Fargo to apologize and train staff to oppose discrimination against atheists. We ask the Nevada Equal
Rights Commission to conduct a proper investigation supporting the rights of nonbelievers.
Secular people can be religious, spiritual but nonreligious, or atheist, but they share three goals:
The National Notary Association’s Public Code of Professional Responsibility prevents notaries from
refusing to notarize a document that they personally don’t like. Notaries simply check IDs. They are not
lawyers or government watchdogs. “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, or because of disagreement with the statements or purpose of a
Whiteside’s ID was accepted and he had an account at Wells Fargo. The only explanation for his
rejection is discrimination against his church’s minority status and godless mission.
Discrimination by one employee at one branch is not that big a deal, but when John Whiteside asked
Wells Fargo and the Nevada Equal Rights Commission to investigate, they stonewalled him. Unlike other
minority groups, atheists who are discriminated against just aren’t taken seriously. This elevates a single
incident to a case of corporate-wide and state government support for discrimination. That’s important.
Why do religions get special privileges under the law? Because society says that religious organizations
are better than secular nonprofits, and religious people are superior to atheists. Just last month, the star
of Duck Dynasty fantasized about a brutal rape of atheists, and he was not fired from his show. Hate
speech against atheists, called atheophobia or secularphobia, is bigotry and should be unacceptable.
According to Pew polls, 2% of Americans are openly atheist, and “secularists”, those who don’t belong to
an organized religion or who wish for greater separation of church and state, number as much as 20% of
the United States. We are too numerous to be hated and marginalized. Yet a 2011 study at the University
of British Columbia and University of Oregon found that Americans hate atheists more than they hate
rapists. These bigoted attitudes tear apart families and communities, reduce secularists to second class
citizens under the law, and marginalize nonbelievers from public discourse. That must change.
In 2010, friends of magician Penn Jillette, including John Whiteside, noted that religions get special
privileges under the law. They thought, why not found our own church, give it a ridiculous name, The
United Church of Bacon, and then ask for the same privileges? This would underscore the bias in society
to call religious organizations and religious people better than secular organizations and secular people.
Whiteside’s real, legal church now has 4,000 members and does not claim tax-free status. It accepts no
donations, but in 2014 it raised nearly $100,000 for other charities in autism, cancer, and secularism.
The protesters include Las Vegas and Hollywood performers, and leaders of 7 national secular groups:
We ask Wells Fargo for an apology, to affirm that they won’t discriminate against atheists or minority faiths, and to include atheists as a protected minority in their anti-discrimination training for staff. We ask the Nevada Equal Rights Commission to affirm that atheists and minority churches should be protected from discrimination and to investigate this incident beyond a perfunctory glance.
John Whiteside, United Church of Bacon, firstname.lastname@example.org, 702-265-7722.