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Atheists challenge ‘Heaven’ on New York City street sign
July 6th, 2011
04:47 PM ET

Atheists challenge ‘Heaven’ on New York City street sign

By Samantha Stamler, CNN

New York (CNN) - A new street sign that reads “Seven in Heaven Way,” and that was recently unveiled in Brooklyn, New York, to commemorate seven local firefighters who lost their lives in the September 11, 2001 attacks has drawn the ire of some atheists, who say they’re prepared to go to court to have the sign taken down.

New York City Atheists, a group that opposes the public use of religious references, is challenging the new sign, which was erected in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood.

“We’re supposed to be a secular nation - there really should not be any religious symbolism or signage in public places,” said Kenneth Bronstein, President of New York City Atheists. “We feel that any and all people who died in 9-11 should be remembered and honored. That’s not the problem.”

Bronstein calls the sign a violation of the separation of church and state, arguing that the word “heaven” is a clear reference to Christianity.

Bronstein has contacted the city with his complaint and has proposed an alternative street name: “We Remember the 7-911.”

Groups dedicated to honoring 9/11 victims did not immediately reply to requests for comment on Bronstein’s campaign.

But some New Yorkers told CNN New York affiliate WPIX that they disagree with the New York City Atheists.

"That's nonsense,” said Anbriena Insausti, who lives in Manhattan. “The families should honor their loved ones anyway they want."

Bronstein says the group is prepared to sue the city over the sign and what it says are other unconstitutional government endorsements of religion.

“This is not a matter of faltering patriotism or public ignorance, but rather an effort to promote secularism,” he said. “We want [the sign] to be neutral. Anyone can believe whatever they want to believe.”

“We’ll die for the right to believe,” he continued. “Just don’t shove it down our throat.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • New York

soundoff (3,096 Responses)
  1. Jeff

    I'm an atheist and am really turned off by the behavior of atheist groups like these. The sign is not harming anyone and does not promote any agenda – it's there to honor a group of people. If anything, it's helping the families cope, so just leave it alone.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Curtis H. Fuller

      I agree. It's just a metaphor. Poetry. I'm as liberal as the next guy, but 'cmon!

      July 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • wes

      What if some islamic group wanted to name a street by ground zero celebrating the pilots of the planes? 14 in heaven?

      July 8, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  2. Josh

    I'm Atheist, and while I agree with the New York Atheists in principle, this is not the battle I would have picked to fight. It's really a no win situation from a PR perspective.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Jeff

      +1 atheist agrees

      July 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Elly

      Make that +2 atheists who agree.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Curtis H. Fuller

      +3. THis is silly.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • IslandAtheist

      Agreed

      July 7, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Kivahut

      +4 Atheists agree. I have a recipe for chocolate cake that I call Heaven, and everyone agrees. I've even been to a gay bar called Heaven (London); Best dance music EVER!

      July 8, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • John

      +5 atheists agree

      July 8, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  3. BluDove

    Why does it bother Atheist to see posting/ads/billboards of Christian comments such a threat or/and "Just don’t shove it down our throat.”? Could it be that they are reminded of the consciousness they try so hard to forget. Do they feel guilty? Nobody likes to be reminded of their sins, but at least with the Church there is 'forgiveness'. The way of the beast offers no forgiveness.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Observer

      "Could it be that they are reminded of the consciousness they try so hard to forget."

      Why not skip the wishful thinking and face the reality that most non-believers have given religion serious thought and disagree because they find it irrational?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • oakydoke

      You misunderstand. Atheists neither believe in an invisible man in the sky, nor an invisible beast in the ground. We see, hear, feel and touch the world around us, and do not seek invisible beings for meaning. We have no 'cosmic guilt', only guilt from ill deeds.

      There is no proof, or evidence of God. It's just made up. And if there WAS proof of God... what exactly would be the value of faith?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Jeff

      "The way of the beast"

      funny stuff

      July 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Artist

      Blu-The way of the beast offers no forgiveness.
      --------------–
      Jesus I had to laugh, had a flash back to old times. What next, shal we burn us some witches? lol My god get a freaking clue. lol

      July 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • WhiteDove

      I'm surprised Christians aren't complaining. "7 in Heaven" ? How do you know that all seven are in their heaven? Maybe one, brave as he may have been as an emergency responder, was poking his neighbor's wife and wasn't feeling one bit repentant and wasn't asking for forgiveness. It's doubtful all were born-again evangelical washed-in-the-blood Christians-only-need-to-apply believers. In that case, shouldn't the street be named "6 in Heaven and one well... so sorry – you burn Avenue!" ?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • aREALcommunist

      Join us in the 21st century you sun worshipping pagan.

      PATRIA SOCIALISM O MUERTE!

      July 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  4. Jobu

    That's a bit far, my dear atheists, just a bit.....

    July 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • oakydoke

      As an atheist, I agree.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Cutterman

      As one I also agree..... There are better things to worry about.....Erik Prince????? maybe.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  5. terrence

    just because america is majority christian doesn't mean christians get to impose their beliefs on everyone else in the public square! Before the civil rights movement, the majority of whites thought jim-crow laws were acceptable. Does that mean that the majority should have had the final say? I don't think so.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  6. maybeagnosticmaybenot

    I know how most of the Christians here feel. I hate ALL Christians becasue of the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Mike

      Sounds like you need therapy, hating ALL Christians because of a small obviously radical group that does NOT practice TRUE Biblical values is absurd! I will say that I am Christian, proud to be and I do not impose my beliefs on anyone....further more I do not hate you just because you hate me.......

      July 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Curtis H. Fuller

      I don't hate any person – but I do loathe Christianity and organized churches. That said, I think this challenge is absurd.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  7. Davethecanuck

    Pick your battles... fools.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  8. Artist

    Just for the record, I am agnostic and feel these guys are getting carried away.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  9. Jesse

    Although
    i am a non practicing catholic I understand that this sign could offend some people who aren't religious christians or those that choose not to believe in a higher power but there comes a point (especially when it pertains to those who gave there lives so others can live) when those who are atheists seem to want to step on the toes of those who want to celebrate the lives of those brave men and women who did what they did because it was a calling. We lost many brave souls on that terrible day many of whom were christians and many who were't. One can argue that heaven for these who are being remembered as being a better place whether that be in the kingdom of who we call God or a place where they can be free.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Free

      Point is that Christians should be offended as well. Nobody who believes that God is the sole judge of righteousness ought to believe that any individuals are guaranteed to be in heaven, right? These guys could have been truly saved, but who knows? A Taoist, a Wiccan, or even an atheist could have acted exactly in the same way and few Christians would argue that they earned their way in.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  10. Laughing

    It's nice to see how loving all the christians that came out today! God loves everyone right? Well, except for you, and you and you of course, and you and.....ect...

    July 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • ridiculous

      It shouldn't matter what anyone thinks other than the families of the dead... if believing in an afterlife comforts them and gives them some reason for the deaths of their loved ones, then there is no reason for that sign to be taken down.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      God loves everybody!
      But He is, of course, more than happy to condemn 99.9% of humanity to eternal damnation for not being able to pick the One True Faith out of countless options using faith as the only guide.

      It's kind of like when the founding fathers said "all men are created equal" when what they really meant was "all white, land owning men are created equal".

      July 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  11. Heaven is a myth, there is no afterlife

    Stop believing in FAIRY TALES!
    There is no ZEUS, there is no THOR, there is no APOLLO!
    THERE IS NO AFTERLIFE!
    STOP BELIEVING IN FAIRY TALES!

    July 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Al

      Who are you to dictate beliefs to others? this nation was started over religious freedom: Dont likeit, go to Iran, where they're used to being told what to believe!

      July 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • mjts993

      now ... now little boy ... it's not your fault your daddy left.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Mat

      Good for you. It still doesnt mean you are right.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • dAVID

      That is your opinion,,,,fool.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • mance lotter

      and your proof is...

      see, here's the thing, you only have a belief there is no heaven. it's on the other end of the continuum of belief from where i stand, but it's still belief. Or to use your words, you believe in a different fairy tale than i do, but it's still a fairy tale.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  12. William

    I'm glad to see New York City Atheists link the word Heaven to Christians.
    To bad/so sad they will never enter in.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • wgage

      Neither will you.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  13. Charles

    And atheism is a religious belief in itself which is trying to be imposed, along with the belief that it is good to honor someone who died. Any definition of good or bad is also religious and not everyone agrees. I say we put up whatever signs we want, Atheist, Buddhist, Islamic, and not be so sensitive. If the sign said "Seven in Valhalla" I'd be fine with that even though I'm not a Viking.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Laughing

      *sigh* Ok so I guess I'm going to have to be the one to tell you, two things, one: Atheism is not a religion, the only uniting factor of atheism is the belief that there is no such thing as a god or gods, and even that is tenuous at best. Please look at a definition and you'll find that atheism does not fit in, unless of course you cram it in, but that's like trying to fit a triangle piece into a square hole, it might fit but that doesn't make a triangle a square. Second: Some people might have overly religious feelings about atheism, but religious in the sense that they are obessed with the idea, but how does have "religious" feelings about atheism take away from the atheistic message or make god any more real? how does thinking that you've proven atheism is somehow a religion even make any sense?

      PSA: Please think before you post

      July 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • mance lotter

      hey Laughing, you condescending pr_ick, atheists believe there is no God. I believe there is a God. We both base our lives on our beliefs. So why are their beliefs protected and mine are not? your statement of "think before you write" is dripping in irony!

      July 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • oakydoke

      "A-Theist": Without God. Atheism is hardly even a belief, much less a religion. Atheism means, we see no evidence of God, only evidence of the things we see, hear and feel.

      An Atheist will change his mind when confronted with scientific evidence. A religious person would never change their mind, because of 'Faith'. A state of being that ignores facts, and is immune to change.

      Atheism is not a religion. There is no God, no altar, no prayers, just a group of people that say: "We see no evidence for this invisible man in the sky you speak of."

      July 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Chris

      .. and just think... the sign wouldn't even exist if it weren't for some 'radical religious folks'....

      Personally, I think a more 'honorable' street sign would be 'Seven Heroes' Way. If we are going to honor or commemorate a group of folks, let's do it based on their actions here on Earth instead of based on a speculative 'afterlife' location.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • oakydoke

      @mance lotter: You are incorrect. "Beliefs" are what religious people have. Atheists have theories, and facts. Beliefs do not change. If you 'believe in God' it's rather unlikely you would do an experiment and say "Well, what do you know, there is no God!' Because Belief is based in Faith.

      Atheists have neither belief, nor faith. You have no point.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Laughing

      Hey Mance,

      Thanks for being awesome, 2 thumbs up! First might I say that I do not base my life on my beliefs, nor do I base my life around the fact that there is no god, so there's that, but thanks for all the as.sumptions. I'm also confused here, so you think that the atheist is always protected while the big bad mean government is attacking the christians? I'm confused at what point are you beliefs under attack in a purely legal sense?

      Then again, I'm just an ironic, condecending pr_ick who is probably going to hel.l because i don't believe in god right? What do I know, poor dumb me...

      July 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  14. oakydoke

    As an atheist, I find this silly. The word 'Heaven' has several meanings, some of them quite secular. When I say "this ice cream is heaven" I'm not making a statement that invisible angels live in my bowl of frozen cream.

    These types of cases make atheists look petty, and silly. I'm all for keeping religion out of goverment, but I'm not for banning certain words due to possible religious inflection.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • AndyB

      Seconded!

      July 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  15. achipotle

    Good common sense...I wish them well. America is a better place for PAtriots like this.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  16. Steve

    People are fighting for the right to live over seas and these guys are fighting over a street sign, get over it and stop acting like a 5 year old. When someone is bringing you physical harm then we can talk.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Josh

      I always hate when people make arguments like this. It's like you're saying, you shouldn't argue for anything you believe in because there is something "more important" out there. Apparently a country of 300 million people is only capable of debating one thing at a time at all levels of government.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • dAVID

      Exacly Steve. I think the biggest reason for any of these complainers is that as children, they never got much attention because mommy and daddy were working or split up. So in turn as adults, they find a class of people that they feel "loved" in and they act upon their ideals. For this guy, being an atheist gives him a feeling of being "loved" by his new "family". Sorta like Manson and his followers. You never see Christians claiming that non-religious signs should be taken down but oh my if a sign with any type of Christian theme is shown in public, they go ape-sh!t.

      Atheists are adult babies that never grew up and they now throw adult temper-tantrums when they're not happy.

      Offended? Get over it and move on. Life wasn't made for you and you're not the center of the universe.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @dAVE
      "So in turn as adults, they find a class of people that they feel "loved" in and they act upon their ideals. For this guy, being an atheist gives him a feeling of being "loved" by his new "family". Sorta like Manson and his followers."

      Or kind of like virtually any and all churches?

      Or the Christians who followed Sun Myung Moon, Emanuel Swedenborg, Baha u llah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, David Koresh, Hailie Selassie, John Thom, Arnold Potter, William Davies, George roux, Ernest Norman, Krishna Venta, Ahn Sahng-Hong, Jim Jones, Mashall Applewhite, Hulon Mitchell, Wayne Bent, Ariffin Mohammed, Mitsuo Matayoshi, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, Inri Cristo, Thomas Provenzano, David Icke, Shoko Asahara, Hogan Fukinaga, Marina Tsvigun or Sergei Troop?

      Or the devoutly Christian members of Manmasi National Christian Army and the National Liberation Front of Tripura, who force Hindus to convert at gun point and are known to encourage the murder of Hindu children?
      Or The Army of God, Aryan Nations, Aryan Republican Army, Phineas Priesthood, and The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  17. Thew

    If we are going to get into specifics, Websters first definition of heaven is 1: the expanse of space that seems to be over the earth like a dome : firmament —usually used in plural.

    Technically its scientific...

    And as far as offending atheist... How can you be offended by something that doesnt exist?

    July 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Correct Cynic

      "Heaven" is absolutely NOT a scientific term. It can be contextualized to have a more scientific meaning, but in this particular example, there is no avoiding the religious reference. Nice try, though.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Lhart

      hehehe exactly

      July 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • adasil2

      This does seem like a silly thing to care about, especially if the seven who died were believers in Christianity. However, your logic of "if it doesn't exist, how can it offend?" is a little flawed, imo, since they are not offended by "heaven" but by the use of the word on a specific sign. That does exist. I get your point, but it's bad logic.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  18. Jenny

    I'm an atheist but that's ridiculous. By their logic we'd have to rename every "Cottontail Way", "St. John's Place", or even "Church Street" out there. A street sign doesn't even suggest a belief in god, let alone try to make anyone else believe. This makes me REALLY angry, because it makes atheists seem petty, ridiculous and obsessive. The point is, nothing IS sacred–and here these fools are, trying to enshrine their right to be free of even a mention of religion. Having said that, though, PLEASE, everybody–don't use phrases like 'the atheists' and don't try to paint us all with the same brush. Like anyone else, we're all different, and most of us know far better these people. And, most importantly, like anyone else, we do have (and dearly value) the right to freedom of belief.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Zach

      Will you marry me? That's pretty much how I feel!

      July 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Chris

      Well stated!

      July 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • oakydoke

      Get in line Zach! 🙂 Well said. These people are not representative of atheists.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Steve

      Perfectly said

      July 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • adasil2

      Great post! I feel the exact same way. Although maybe I'm just so used to Christianity being advertised everywhere here in Louisiana (in north-central Louisiana there is an official state sign for a state Christian chlidren's camp, or something to that extent)

      July 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • dAVID

      Well said Ms. Atheist.

      –Mr. Christian

      July 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Jenny

      This club is formed! Zach–I doubt it, but thanks for the thought.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  19. dljr

    Selfish people these atheists...they claim their right exceeds the rights of families who lost loved ones. Government is not starting a church or forcing people to be part of a religion by erecting a street sign. Separation of church and state is entirely different issue. Islam, Hindu, Buddhism all acknowledge a heaven. These Atheists are thugs.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Correct Cynic

      YOU'RE a thug. lol

      July 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Observer

      Selfish people these Christians. For the thousands of non-believers who have sacrificed their lives for our nation, why do you insist that they can only officially pledge their allegiance to our nation by thanking God?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • dAVID

      My observations about atheists is that their thinking is skewed and they tend to be very adept at manipulation and covert/overt in their aggressiveness. This makes no sense. To be flagrantly opposed to something that is inherent in our lives regardelss of whether you are intertwined in it, yet, they refuse to "live with it" shows that they have very little compassion and empathy. Any talk, of any kind, turns into instance anger as though a light switch goes off in their heads.

      To me this is not about religion or politics but this shows their lack of good parental upbringing, lack of empathy, and they see this as a opportunity to become vile and outwardly spoken just to spite others that have a different opinion or view.

      As a result of their poor upbringing, many social factors (permissiveness, indulgence, abuse, neglect, and lack of accountability), it seems that there is an increasing number of overtly aggressive and covertly aggressive (manipulative) children these days.

      Atheists seem to be self-focused (self-centered) in their thinking. This is a disordered character and they seem to think only of themselves. They don't think about what others need or how their behavior might impact others also. This knid of thinking leads to attributes of selfishness and disregard for social obligations. They care less about the well being of Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc but seem bent on only living in a world of self-centeredness.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  20. Timbar68

    The Separation of Church and State has nothing to do with any religious symbolism or signage in public places. If you read the true context it gives religious freedoms to all people. The Government is unable to dictate what you believe in and how you worship. A sign is not Government involvement in religion and it is not a Religious take over of our Government. I think we as a people have larger challenges to confront than a road sign. Where are the Atheists when we need to stop the ban on Gay Marriage, the ban on Gays in the Military ( before overturned ), Actual laws on many States books stating that Adultry can be prosecuted above and beyond ending a marriage to give a few examples. These are freedoms that have been withheld and have their beginnings in Religion. As I said there are bigger challenges that would more accurately address the separation of Church and State then a sign. Grow up, understand Our history and why we were given our freedoms in the first place. It seems that Atheists are so passionate about their beliefs that Some would force feed the rest of us. Amazing how a group that claims to have no religious affiliation may in fact be becoming the fastest growing religion itself. Here is one meaning from Webster dictionary "a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith" In simplest terms Atheism is the new religion of the 21st century. Please separate from Our State

    July 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Ryan in Michigan

      Your analysis is spot on and I agree with it, but don't expect the Atheist religion to release its' hold on our government anytime soon.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.