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. Mike

    "Seven in Heaven" doesn't have to be interpreted according to any particular belief system. On the contrary, all this needs to mean is, "These were good people who died." Some people, like these New York Atheists, have too much time on their hands and go looking for trouble.

    August 3, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • alisha

      I agree. I'm all for secular country but come on...

      August 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  2. Valentinno

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    July 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • frank

      You must have very low standards.

      July 29, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • AvdBerg

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      July 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • AvdBerg

      Frank let the anger go brother.

      July 29, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  3. Clayton

    I agree. Separation of church and state. Regardless of what the people believe, the city is using it's money to put this up in a public area. Remember them and don't forget, but at the same time keep it neutral for all to respect these people who died.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Sarah Bonner

      1. Separation of church of state was meant to be a positive enforcement that protected each person's right to worship, or not worship, as they see fit. However, many atheists have taken it to mean the negative enforcement of eradicating religious references from public view, which is it's own breed of intolerance and religious control.

      2. While there is definitely a "Christian" Heaven, Heaven is actually not all that spoken of in the Bible; the word 'heaven' has also become a colloquial word, and can mean a variety of ideas from a variety of faiths (real and fictional). I've met plenty of atheists who hear expressions like the comical, "You're mom is the devil!" or "That was heavenly" and suddenly launched into a speech about how they believe God doesn't exist. Basically, if you're offended by the word 'heaven', you're way too serious-business and need to settle down.

      3. The New York City Atheists' suggestion for an alternate street name just kinda bites. "Seven in Heaven" is at least clever, and people know what it means. It doesn't mean you need to go to a church and pray for them, but you understand the concept that some people died, and they will be missed because they were good people.

      4. If we need to remove religious references from street names, I feel nothing but pity for all those clerks and map makers in our nation who will need to change thousands of streets and entire city names just to comply with the desire to eradicate religious reference.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • Jake

      As an atheist, I agree that these guys are being a bit petty here and probably going too far. But I also have to agree that they are right in concept – no public spending should be going towards advertising religion. There's enough of it out there already and we shouldn't accept more.

      July 28, 2011 at 8:03 am |
  4. Italia

    To Antichristian Taliban...that is what I am saying. it is true the world is becoming more and more hostile, with murders, wars, and other antisocial behaviour run amuk all over the world. The more due to electronic communications we were innudated with images of wars, strife and negativity the world over, moreso than people who do good works and care about people and doing for the greater good. However, when confronted with the silliness of the offensiveness of a street sign bearing the word heaven? Pleezze. As I said, there are too many of us to defeat because that is exactly what these actions on the part of athesist are trying to do. Defeat ones belief in God and there are too many of us to do that. For the outspoken believers there are just as many silent believers as well. I personally do not believe that there are atheist because we are all created by the creator and there exist within our cellular structure in every living creature and thing...GOD our maker. He/she/it is the light of the world. So what's next, dismissing the word "Light" from the American language?

    July 26, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  5. Ryan

    Most Atheists aren't really atheist. I'm so skeptical that I'm skeptical of skeptics and in my quest for the truth I have uncovered VERY FEW real atheists. Richard Dawkins? most "atheists" hero, is not an atheist. In fact, anyone who tells you the way it is without proof is not an atheist. These "Evangelical Atheists" that hide behind the namesake are generally just anti-religious and that is just a copout. Get over yourselves, let the bloody streetname reamin in memorium of those you died in the name of saving others. Regardless, whether Snoop Goddy God or The Watcher from Marvel Comics appears after you die is irrelevant, what is relevant is trying to be a good person in the present and acting in a matter that makes you feel better about yourself. So many of "you" (religious and anti-religious alike) hate yourself and don't even know it. You think you know...but you don't know squat.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Alex

      You.. Are.. Afraid.. Of.. Death.. thats why you bend your logic to believe in burning bushes and an afterlife.. despite all the evidence against the idea of god/heaven.. You are simply to scared to let it go:(

      July 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Jake

      Atheism isn't a belief, it's simply a refutation of what we consider to be ridiculous fantasies. Trust me, we REALLY do believe they're fantasies. Religious people on the other hand...I truly believe that there can't be more than about 10% of them who actually believe what their religious profess to be true.

      July 28, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  6. Italia

    There are too many of us to defeat. Our faith in God is strong and you will NOT win this. This is America where freedom of speech rains supreme. If you do not believe, then don't believe, words such as heaven should have no bearing on your lives at all if you believe it doesn't exist. Why are you paying attention? Because deep down inside of every living creature whether you say you disbelieve, your very cellular structure speaks differently. In a darkened room if you respond to light, you are responding to the God almighty. Smile...Gotcha!

    July 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban

      We don't have to defeat anyone. More and more of you are leaving your myths. Should be interesting to see in the next 50 to 100 years what the percentages are.

      July 26, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Alex

      Athiest have no bias when it comes to god/afterlife.. we leave even our own humanity at the door in order to get the CORRECT answer.. How do you think the idea of being mortal benefits us? The idea SUCKS, and I wish it wasnt true.. I wish there WAS an afterlife, but every piece of evidence in the universe points to the fact that there isnt one.:( .. so check your bias at the door before you begin researching the biggest question ever asked..

      July 27, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • OnLooker

      Alex, what evidence disproves the existence of an afterlife?

      July 28, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      OnLooker wrote: "what evidence disproves the existence of an afterlife?"

      Once again... one can not prove a negative... (You can't prove that there isn't a pink unicorn circling around the moon...)

      The burden of proof is on those who make a claim: Please prove that there is an afterlife... (and no, using ancient books of fairy tales doesn't count...)

      August 4, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  7. Conky2012

    Yawn. There hasn't been a good proved or disproved. Yes, anyone with half of a brain knows that there is no one true religion today. They are all wrong, and full of man made garbage, especially Christianity. However, science epicly fails to explain the origins of existence, and the vast majority of religions preach a similar story. There is truth in everything. A person who thinks there can't be a creator, is ignorant, period. God? Probably not. Was this planets life designed by something? Obviously. There is absolutely no way that the perfect system established on this planet just appeared. We have the ability to create any species we want now, in a lab, even new species. Why couldn't we have been made that way? Why did societies 6000 years ago know how many planets there were and exactly what path they take around the sun, speed, etc. Explain that, science or religion.

    July 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  8. lu

    I totally get freedom from religion and I support and promote that. I don't think religious references should be used in any government or public property. But these people have a long way to go with this since now we will need to remove the reference to saints on street signs all over the country. Think of New Orleans. Plus there are cities named after saints all over the place. This is a big ole wiggly can o worms...

    July 25, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  9. Babu G. Ranganathan

    Atheists should read my popular Internet article "Science Doesn't Explain Away God."

    July 25, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Which god did you have in mind? There have been so many...

      July 25, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  10. Richard S Kaiser

    Atheism may well be a Debacle Toward Anything Religiously Assumptive and is to Me; Void of Anything Morally Attainable. As a Born Religious Nation, the USA ought to Reread its’ Historical Commentaries that bring to Light, Its’ Verifiable Christian Upbringings!

    I am a Christian Fundamentalist and I do SO Cherish Any Morally Based Religions and Jesus Himself would Most-Likely See No “Evil” in Other Religious-Based Fundamentalisms.

    July 20, 2011 at 7:03 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Your sentiment works just as well with a slight modification:

      Religion may well be a Debacle Toward Anything Religiously Assumptive and is to Me; Void of Anything Morally Attainable.

      You appear to be totally brainwashed...

      July 25, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Alex

      Your a christian fundamentalist huh? Well I hope youve been doing your duty and killing all people that work on sunday or are gay.. Also make sure you put down those children that speak back to thier parents, bc according to Jesus, the punishment for that is DEATH...

      July 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  11. flyshadow55

    It will all be answered in the end. it will be that first awaking of consciousness of which i believe we will be held in judgement, and i plan on carrying that "Sign with me.

    July 20, 2011 at 6:43 am |
  12. stockmarketusa

    Athiest Friends maight say, there is no evidence to support that God exists, so he does not exist. In the past we did not have evidence to prove that sound waves existed, did that mean it did not exist then. Its just that our means of providing evidence to the existence of sound waves improved. So just to say the lack of evidence is the reason enough to prove God's non-existence does not make sense. It just could be we dont have the means to provide the evidence yet. But Science is always growing and needs to be open to all options and not be narrowed down by athiestic ideologies. Drawing quick conclusions based on our present limited understanding of science and making foolish claims like God does not exist is mere arrogance and short-sightedness.

    July 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • o.k.

      Brilliant post!

      July 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      I do Care a Great Deal in Science’s Up and Coming Revelations regarding Fractal Cosmological Relativities. What is this you ask?

      I Base such; Upon what One is able to See. One can see Otherly Phenomenon in Outer Space that are Way Too Similar when Compared to the Phenomenon within the Inner Spaces of The Cellular Life Formations In ALL Things Of LIFE.

      Outer Space is the Nothingness and this Nothingness Permeates Everywhere; Even within All Bodies of Allness ad infinitum. One May preclude My Word to be Faithless and Not Recognizable in Concordance with Theologians who Themselves are as but Children when Considering Their Intellectual Hindsightiveness.

      July 20, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Stockmarketusa wrote: “It just could be we dont have the means to provide the evidence yet. But Science is always growing and needs to be open to all options and not be narrowed down by athiestic ideologies. Drawing quick conclusions based on our present limited understanding of science and making foolish claims like God does not exist is mere arrogance and short-sightedness.”

      “I do Care a Great Deal in Science’s Up and Coming Revelations regarding Fractal Cosmological Relativities.”

      What is this you ask?

      “I Base such; Upon what One is able to See. One can see Otherly Phenomenon in Outer Space that are Way Too Similar when Compared to the Phenomenon within the Inner Spaces of The Cellular Life Formations In ALL Things Of LIFE.”

      “Outer Space is the Nothingness and this Nothingness Permeates Everywhere; Even within All Bodies of Allness ad infinitum. One May preclude My Word to be Faithless and Not Recognizable in Concordance with Theologians who Themselves are as but Children when Considering Their Intellectual Hindsightiveness.”

      July 20, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      SORRY ALL about the "Double Posting" But when I tried a 1st post it wouldn't come up, and I was getting a "Duplication warning? SO SORRY I AM

      July 20, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • fred bazzeeda

      Don't forget, the burden of proof lies upon you. It is that simple.
      Till then, your rant is nothing more than pure heresy. Simple as that.
      Peace, fact and truth,

      July 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Belloch

      This is a great post. The problem with it is that when scientists do find evidence of God, they will name it something else so atheists will still say, "See? God does not exist."

      July 25, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  13. Robert

    All Scientists are not athiests, there are more christian scientists than athiest scientists. So science has nothing to do with athiesm. Athiesm is an ideology and a belief system as much as christianity is. Only difference is Christianity gives hope and athiesm does not. Science is our understanding of the physical dimension of the universe and we keep growing in it, it does not in any way disprove the existence of God. Its just the narrow-minded beliefs of the athiests who think they are using science to disprove God. Its again ignorance. Science is the study of nature and is helpful if studied with an open mind without the influence of the belief system called atheism, which is intolerant and narrow-minded and arrogant

    July 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • jay

      You are without doubt a hero to your friends and family-if they are as ignorant as you. The national Academy of Science' ranks are predominantly (approximately 90%) Atheist with good reason-those members who disbelieve in god and religion do so because the evidence is not there to support it. And are you speaking of christian Science churches, or christian scientists? Please, provide a link to the numbers you are quoting as you, the instigator, are obligated to provide the proof to your claim. I have another question as well: If all Atheists are arrogant to claim god does not exist, how are you, or any other believer, not arrogant in claiming god exists as an absolute fact?

      July 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Jose

      Id like to see the source for your statistics Jay. Unless you expect me to have "faith" in you of course.

      July 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Jay

      Excuse me, my number was off. Read it yourself though.

      July 18, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Alohawaii

      C'mon Jay! "There is no evidence to Support God's existence.'? Heb.3:4 Of course, every house is constructed by someone, but he that constructed all things is God. All the modern conveniences of life you take for granted were invented by creative people, yet a complex genetic helix and analytical thought process that can question the very existence of a Creator are an accident...If you wan't to believe your uncle was a monkey was monkey, I'm not going to debate that.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Lame-0

      LOL....there is PLENTY of data suggesting that the educated tend not to be creationists....more christian scientists than atheist scientists? Look it up... Also, the uneducated tend to have more children and earlier....what does this lead to? More uneducated people begetting themselves....this leads to our crisis in America. The mind virus/meme of God must be severed in order to flourish.

      July 26, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  14. fimeilleur

    As an atheist... I disagree with taking down the street sign... it's the name of the street. Big deal. Name the next one 19 in Hades... (bonus point for those who get the reference)

    Futher down, someone alludes to the hassle of changing all the city names in the US... I can agree with that one 100% (the comment, not the name changes). This isn't about enforcing dogma on a population, this is about the right to name something what you want.

    July 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Bianca

      Thank you for understanding the big picture. Why cant the families who lost thier loved ones name a street sign that goes along with their faith?

      July 19, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  15. RPD

    DON'T LOOK AT IT . . . JUST WALK ON BY . . . and keep your stupid non-religious comments to yourself. IN GOD WE TRUST! GOD BLESS AMERICA! If you don't like it, then get the heck out of the country. GOD BLESS YOU, EVEN THE FOOLS!

    July 15, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • GodPot

      "If you don't like it, then get the heck out of the country"

      I'm fairly certain that if Christ showed up today on the streets of Dallas he would be picked up and deported to Mexico as an illegal by the very same conservative nutjob's who claim Jesus own's the US. Your God is the one who need's to get out, at least out of our government as the founders intended.

      July 15, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Jonas

      Just F.Y.I.- "In God we trust" may be the U.S. motto, but it wasn't adopted until 1956, and this is NOT a christian nation, as much as you, and a lot of revisionists, would like to believe. I don't like it, and I am not leaving my home. I will fight your mistaken belief that you can impose your will upon myself or anyone else who disagrees with you. Just because I do not believe in god doesn't mean I am a fool...although you being a fan of "god" seems to make you one by the fact that your comments betray your ignorance. This is not a christian nation. Read the "treaty of Tripoli"It was submitted to the Senate by President John Adams, receiving ratification unanimously from the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797 and signed by Adams, taking effect as the law of the land on June 10, 1797.

      The treaty was a routine diplomatic agreement but has gained attention because the English version included a clause about religion in America:[3]

      As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. " There you go my friend. Enjoy. If you want more sources for that, I will gladly supply them if you cannot be bothered to find them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TreatyofTripoli.gif

      July 17, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • Jose


      If he was deported by anyone, it would be the Federal Government, not the state. The State of Texas has not passed any immigration laws akin to Arizona's and I think state immigration control laws are going to be repealed regardless.

      July 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Alex

      @RPD, and you wonder why we dont take you people seriously? Oh, and god doesnt exist..

      July 27, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Cubeless

      Nice show of not judging, RPD.

      July 31, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  16. vvvbbb


    July 15, 2011 at 4:50 am |
  17. Brandon

    Salazar v. Buono: "The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement [of religion] does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm."

    July 15, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Q

      The difference here being a private group erecting a religious display on public land (and a subsequent attempt to accommodate by transferring the land in question to private ownership) vs a government's use of a religious reference in an official display. That said, I don't think a mention of "heaven" rises to the level of an official endorsement of a religious view. Were this a legitimate concern, just think of how many towns would need to change their names, e.g. Los Angeles, CA, Pray, MT, Jupiter, FL, Thor, IA, etc, etc...

      July 15, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • md2205

      Exactly. American money has the words "In G-d We Trust" on it. That is a blatant example of how G-d does in fact permeate our thoughts in this country to the extent that our money, the most materialistic object possible, has it written on it. The founding fathers of America didn't want it to be rid of religion, but rather that no religion can become the official American government religion. They wanted all people to be able to practice their religion in peace without persecution. To say they can't name a street with the word heaven on it is ridiculous. Atheists think they can arrogantly get rid of every reference to religion in the name of separation of church and state but they miss the POINT. By the way, G-d can be proven, but the person who demands the proof has to set which standard of proof they will accept. If it is to be seen, then there will be no proof, as even Moses asked G-d to show Himself to him and G-d said no man can see Me and live. If it is to be heard, that already happened as the Jews received the Torah directly from G-d (not from Moses, who also got it at the same time He was giving it to all Jews) at Mt. Sinai thousands of years ago and passed that information to their children, and their children's children, etc. to our time. If it is to feel G-d physically, that is ridiculous since G-d is not physical. But if it is to see G-d's help in your life, that can be seen. If it is to see the world, so intricate, detailed, interdependent, at once expansive beyond our senses and minute beyond our ability to understand how minute, and unified at the same time, that can be a proof. Because evolution is taught as fact in the public schools when children are young and not exposed to other ideas, people grow up thinking it must be the fact, when really it is a theory that has not been proven either. Atheists put faith in the hope that at some point the theory will be proven. To ask for proofs that G-d exists before recognizing the validity of the idea is kind of disingenuous considering that they only have faith in the theory of evolution that has not been proven. It is impossible to understand the ways of G-d and why bad things happen to people. We have to realize that G-d is infinite, every aspect of Him, including his intellect, and intelligence and that His intelligence, being far beyond ours, will not be understood by our limited minds. Therefore, the fact that bad things happen to good people does not disprove the existence of G-d. That is because we can't see why something that happens that seems bad, is really good. But the faith that we have in G-d makes us realize that something that happens that seems bad is for the good. Just as a child who has to get a vaccination doesn't understand that it is for his benefit and cries when he gets it. People also have a hard time understanding the words and sentences of the Bible. That is because it has been translated wrong. Read "The Bible Unauthorized" and you will see how the Bible is really able to be understood, and makes sense, and is applicable to our modern world and our personal lives. Get in touch with a rabbi who knows how to teach the Bible and you will see how the ideas in the Bible are relevant and applicable to us nowadays.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Can you prove that the originators of that phrase weren't dyslexic canine breeders who really were trying to promote their business? In DOG we trust !!!!!!!!!!!!

      Dogs exist... Gods do not...

      July 25, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  18. Desert Dude

    Some atheists these guys are. They have a more dogmatic world view then most believers. Get over yourselves! If life is random and has no meaning, why the hell do you care?

    July 14, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Q

      Though many atheists might contend life is a product of random events (both in origin and daily existence), meaning can be found in simple existence without requiring a metaphysical view based on eternal rewards or punishments.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Jonas

      Why do you believe that being an Atheist means we have a belief that existence is random and life has no meaning? I do not need religion to teach me how to raise my 4 year old daughter who happens to be the core of my existence. She doesn't believe in god, and she is learning to be a moral person all the same. Why would I care about that sign? Because I agree with Thomas Jefferson when he spoke about the necessity to build up a "wall of separation between church and state," while religious people of many faiths look for every excuse to inject religion into politics and government, which is an absolutely horrendous idea; not merely because religion and the state do not mix well-The Holy Roman empire for example-but because if religion becomes a dominant force in government and politics, what happens to the minority of people who do not believe? Or to people of the "wrong faith"? Do you think Jefferson was ignorant when he thought that up? What if you were a minority nonbeliever and a religious denomination became ultra-powerful, affecting every single level of government and every single law in America? That frightens me. Not only should the government protect itself from religion, but religion should be protected from government; if you mix the two, both will ultimately fail to protect the people. Make light of my lack of beliefs, but know that just because I am not god-fearing or religious in any sense, does not make me evil or immoral, nor my little girl. I simply do not want religious forces of any sort chipping away at that wall. How awful is it that religious people and groups sneak their way into the State using the memory of 7 heroes who gave their lives for their fellow citizens?

      July 17, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Clayton

      Well said Jonas!

      July 26, 2011 at 7:19 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.