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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. Laureafin

    "Bronstein calls the sign a violation of the separation of church and state, arguing that the word “heaven” is a clear reference to Christianity." Ignorance runs rampant once again regarding religion. Heaven, as a place or realm name, can be attached to almost every religion on Earth. ie. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Baha i, Confusianism, beliefs of the ancient Aztecs and Toltecs, Polynesian mythology, Maori myhtology, ancient Greeks and Romans ... Anyways, regardless of your views on the separation of church and state you need to be very careful about how you defend or oppose the issue because now it just sounds like Kenneth Bronsteins group is only offended by references (real or conceived) to Christianity and not all organized religion (which Atheism itself can be argued to be).

    July 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • FatSean

      There's no heaven for Hindus or Taoists or Buddhists. He makes a great point.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • doug

      You're right, "heaven" can be attached to almost any religion which is why it shouldn't be attached to a road sign provided by the government.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • YBP

      doug, you beat me to it. Excellent point. So, who is the ignorant one here...?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • YBP

      FatSean, it's great the way you point out the misinformation spewing from this person who is complaining about "ignorance." Bravo.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  2. Client09

    americans...........boo hoo about everything

    July 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Cindy

      LOL Client, so so true!!

      July 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • YBP

      Americans: Jesus, Pick-Up Trucks, Guns, bigotry. If it weren't so tragic, it would be hilarious, this nation of wholesale worthlessness.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  3. mike

    I am usually on the side of the atheists on this sort of issue, but not this time. The street sign is a fine way to honor those local heroes. You don't have to be a religious person to hope that your loved ones who pass away go to a better place or find some sort of peace.

    Plus, it rhymes!

    http://punditsquares.blogspot.com/

    July 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Michael

      Actually you DO have to be religious to think a dead person is in a better place. By definition that is a religious belief.

      Having said that, I have no problem with this sign as a commemoration of these fallen heroes as long as their families approve. This is a highly personal message, and people are allowed to be religious if they choose.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  4. Sinner

    If you don't want to see it. Don't drive there. Don't look at it. Just some simple suggestions. It's still a free country and everybody gets to express themselves, even a turd like you. Shut up and go away!

    July 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  5. James George

    MOBADTHANGOOD,
    I'm a "stinking atheist"...and I served in TWO wars protecting YOU and YOUR right to believe in whatever YOU want. Did you return the favor? If so, thank you. If not, you might want to examine yourself.

    For the record, I don't hold with this nonsense about the street sign. These people need to get a life. But please do NOT defame me and other atheists that you don't even know. I may not agree with you on religious issues, but I certainly don't see you as a "stinking Christian".

    July 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Sharon

      Well said, sir.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • YBP

      From one atheist to another: No one asked you to serve in the Armed Forces. That doesn't make you better than anyone. I remember who the ROTC kids were in school. Your serving in the Armed Forces tells me that you were either some poor trailer trash or some short-sighted ignorant loser growing up. Then you let yourself become a tool for greedy wealthy politicians to use to further their bloody, amoral, moneymaking agendas throughout the middle east. I hope you recover from your inhuman military training, and from the arrogance you seem to have acquired. It's unbecoming. And it's just as bad as religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @YBP
      People join the Forces for many different reasons.
      Some do it for the G.I. Bill, tading a few years of service for a university education.
      Some join up to gain survival skills that are unobtainable anywhere else.
      Some sign up out a sense of patriotic duty.
      Others just want to blow sh1t up.

      The high school kids parading around in their ROTC uniforms are not indicative of everyone who wants to wear a uniform – and I guarantee you that those children, should they go regular force, come out the other side as better, more intelligent, better disciplined people.

      Unless you've experienced it first hand, don't go bashing military training.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  6. Cancellous

    Smug, bitter atheists are truly the lowest forms of life.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Artist

      Noted, is there anything else you would like to add? Or is the most you could come up with in one thought? Perhaps too much Nascar on the brain?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • doug

      We're actually a higher form of life who have evolved past other human beings who cling to a childlike belief in supernatural beings.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Cancellous

      Just an observation. Why can't you idiots leave decent, God-fearing people alone, or are you so jealous that they live fuller, richer lives than you could possibly imagine?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Michael

      How can you possibly live a fuller life when you need crutches to live it?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • YBP

      Smug. Bitter. Highly educated. Brilliant. Sophisticated. I'll take the education. You can keep the fairy tales.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  7. Jackster

    How does anyone know that any of them–let alone all of them–went to heaven?

    July 7, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  8. Sharon

    I am an atheist, but this is not a battle I would have chosen to fight.

    I'd rather fight the inclusion of In God We Trust on our currency.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • YBP

      Agreed.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  9. YBP

    I agree with the Atheists completely, but their court case is not going to fly...because of widespread ignorance. But I must ask, if religion is so important and sacred to certain people, why do they cheapen it with street signs, billboards, bumper stickers and T-shirts?

    July 7, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  10. Chad Egeland

    Get lit atheists, that sign is to remember the ones who sacrificed their lives to save others, during a national tragedy. What are you guys like....NON Americans?

    July 7, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Bill

      You can be an Athiest and a patriotic American at the same time, bozo. I would say if your ignorance of freedom has caused you to not understand what freedom of speech is, than it is YOU who are, like, un-American.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  11. che-3

    They should name that street "Obama's Street".

    July 7, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Concerned

      I'm concerned with Mr. Bronstein's statement that "this is supposed to be a secular nation". When did that happen? It didn't happen with the Puritans who settled this country. Our founding fathers didn't consider it a secular nation. They did make it clear that the government does not have the right to force it's citizens to follow any one religion, but they didn't say that our nation should be a secular nation or that religion should be supressed. It's only been the last 20 years that our right to freely practice religion has been oppressed, not by our government but by a very few who don't believe in religion. Their voices are amplified by the media and other sources in the name of "Not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings" (Political Correctness) until those who do have religious convictions feel attacked and humiliated. (Funny that no one is concerned about those feelings).

      July 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  12. AJ

    Religion. Almost 8 billion people. Around 1/2 Christian. Around 1/2 of that either Protestant or Catholic. Almost 33,000 different Christian denominations... with each one thinking they are right and the other 6 billion or so people are all going to eternal damnation.
    How stupid is that? The #1 factor in what religion you belong to is simply where you were born. LOL, yup, this almighty being only decided to educate one section of the world. Religion is and always has been simply a social control........ now go vote Republican and give the super rich another big tax cut.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • YBP

      Oh, AJ, when you put it like that, it all seems so foolish!

      July 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Toughlove

      Shallow. Over simplistic. Dismissive. But oh so common an arrogant atheist position. I just wish more atheists would read the Bible completely in order to draw their conclusions...not just isolated fragments out of context, then thrown around like indiscriminate grenades. But I think most atheists are actually afraid that they've lived a selfish life and may actually be held accountable one day.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Michael

      Christians don't even come close to 1/2 of the world's population. Maybe 1/4.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • YBP

      Actually, Toughlove, many of us have read the Bible in its entirety, as well as a ton of other books by Historians, Archeologists, Sociologists and Seminary Professors. And, it is after gaining a profound wealth of knowledge about religion that we simply cannot believe. Education is the antidote to the disease called religion. Ever notice that not too many highly educated people believe what you believe? Coincidence?

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

      YBP...what in the world are you talking about?? More mud slinging?!?! Without any foundation? Should I ask my cousin who is one of the foremost retina surgeons in the country...graduate of Stanford and UCLA fellow and teaches Sunday school? Or how about my buddy who is a nuclear energy specialist ay Lawrence Livermore Labs who teaches Christian Apologetics? You, my friend, are a fraud.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Toughlove

      PS these are just two close to me. My MA tells me I can think too. But this is silly. I forgive your ignorance....

      July 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Toughlove
      Sorry to burst your bubble, but there are numerous studies demonstrating the inverse relationship between intelligence and religiosity.
      Dr. Greg Graffin's PHD thesis clearly demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of the world's pre-eminent biologists are atheists.
      It also shows that they find no conflict between religion and evolutionary biology – so long as religion is recognized for what it truly is: a sociological adaptation to facilitate the formation of communities.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  13. Harleygurlx91

    It doesn't surprise me that the athiests would be whinning over the naming of the street. They should be thier own nation, they can be put on a island where the tempatures reach the 100's every day. They are going to need to get use to severe warmth. And when they do meet Almighty God, they will sure look back and see what idiots they have been. What cracks me up is, and athiest has to acknowledge God not to believe in God...really? lol

    July 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • worldbelow

      I talk to god every night, until one night he finally talked back. He told me to Kill.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • YBP

      No, we just say that there aren't any gods. None of the gods of the ancient cultures ever existed. Simple. What's silly is that your name for your god is God. Do you name your dog Dog as well? If you have kids, do you name them Boy and Girl?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Laughing

      you make me sad (or is that laughter?)
      "It doesn't surprise me that the athiests would be whinning over the naming of the street. They should be thier own nation, they can be put on a island where the tempatures reach the 100's every day. They are going to need to get use to severe warmth. And when they do meet Almighty God, they will sure look back and see what idiots they have been. What cracks me up is, and athiest has to acknowledge God not to believe in God...really? lol"

      Thanks for helping me adjust to the temp, though if Islam is the true religion, you might want to join me in hel.l, then when we meet allah we'll both just look at each other and be like "Oh Snap! What an idiot I was!"

      The part that brought me to tears was at the end though (I think it's from laughing so hard) Something about us having to acknowledge god not to believe in god. You sure got us! I acknowledge your belief in an invisible man and you say "There! Gotcha! You talked about my god so he exists! Boom, roasted!"

      Please keep on truckin harleygurlx91, you are great for entertainment, I'm sincerely interested in your views on religion, it sounds like you got some real solid points to make.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Rick

      How does an atheist have to acknowledge god not to believe in god?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Tofer

      Harleygurlx91 – An atheist doesn't have to acknowledge god to say he doesn't exist. Do you believe in aliens? If not, then that means you have to acknowledge them to say they don't exist. Heck...let's take your logic for another spin. Do you believe in Allah? If not, well you have to acknowledge him to prove he doesn't exist... That's just plain silly. Oh and let's not forget one thing. Not all atheist are alike, just like not all christians are alike. The story is in reference to a certain group, so let's all keep our comments inteligent reference this group and not group in people that shouldn't be.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  14. LG-TX

    Heaven . . . it's a word found in the dictionary (and in the Bible). Do atheiests completely eliminate that word from their vocabulary? Oh heavens; heavens sake; tasts like heaven; heaven to betsy; heaven help me; etc.
    If each of the seven family members have agreed to the name, let them have this one small street sign. They lost a loved one. This is only a spec of appreciation we can give them.

    I also like what JennyTX said about San Francisco, San Antionio and others.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • KMS

      Dear Atheists,

      Deal with it.

      Sincerely,
      the Christians.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • YBP

      What most Christians don't realize is that when the New Testament authors say that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, this wasn't an afterlife in the sky. He simply meant Israel. And it was going to be a place for Jews only. And from there, the Jews would reign over the rest of the world, enforcing Mosaic Law on all the other nationsl. It was going to be a true nightmare. "Thank Heaven" it didn't come to pass. True story. Look into it.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Tofer

      KMS – Way to stereotype! Bravo! *applause*

      July 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  15. Anthony L.

    Sybaris stay calm no need to get angry. I simply mean that I do not care what people believe in, that's fine by me, and it is. But take note what I state below is that I will push what I believe on no one. That means that no one should push what they believe on any one. And there are plenty of them out there that do that, and some of their views are off the charts. I would think a person foolish to believe in some of the things they say. There is plenty I dis agree with. This is not the world we live in. People are not perfect nor will ever be. (It's too bad that some people think they are). Now as for Iran, what the heck would I want to go there for? (With what you wrote it sounds like you went there, why?) Nor would I want to go to any place in the middle east. How they live is their choice. We create our own problems, we take religion and twist it to what we think it means. We do the same with the word Freedom. These are words written by man. If people would just use some common sense and try to be the best they can be the world might be a better place. (But that won't happen) Try not to be so concern in what other people do, unless of course it is going to effect you or your family directly. Then stand up and fight, I would be right behind you. There is only so much we can do. Life is to short to waste. PS-Thank you Toni

    July 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • JImmy Pace

      I am with Sybaris! This Anthony guy sounds like a total nut case! Maybe he should go and visit the Middle East

      July 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  16. Sheila

    The separation of church and state was meant to stop governments from killing or persecuting people for their religious beliefs. So the Henry the VIIIs and the Mary Stuarts couldn't kill people for being Catholic or Protestant – so the military couldn't massacre people in their beds for being Jewish, so you couldn't have a requirement of following a certain religion before you could teach in a school, or hold office. So Puritans or Catholics or Jews could meet for worship without having to do it in a basement or catacomb. This idea that no one in government can ever mention anything to do with religion wasn't the idea – the US Congress even has it's own Pastor. Seriously – would this group be filing an objection if the sign said "Seven in Valhalla?"

    July 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  17. morris2196

    Why does even an indirect reference to God get a reaction from atheists? I suspect that many professed atheists are not actually atheists, but are people who know there is a God and want Him to go away. They want to be god.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • FatSean

      Your god is about as good as Hitler. Hitler only had one Holocaust, the Judeo-Christian-Muslim god repeatedly ordered his people to commit genocide. That's what you worship. You worship a made-up monster.

      I think the Atheists are upset that they have been marginalized for so many thousands of years by religious people. Religious people have a long, long history of banning things that don't agree with their holy books. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Chris

      I couldn't agree more that many "athiests" know God exists. I believe that many also deny Him so that you and I can be pursuaded to go to hell with them.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Nathan

      morris2196 – that's just ridiculous. Just because you believe in stories doesn't mean that everyone does. Would it make any sense to say that, in your heart, you really do believe in wizardry but just want Harry Potter to go away? Of course not. Just because you and your parents believe in deities, doesn't make them real.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • YBP

      Morris, it seems that you do not know the hideous history of your church. If you did, you would understand why atheists get so bent out of shape over the slightest thing, and you wouldn't have asked such an ignorant question. Education, my friend. It works wonders.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Rick

      morris: atheists want to be god? as opposed to theists who go about quoting (man written) scripture?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  18. Mercker

    It's not that big of a deal to make a sign that is neutral to all. It is offensive to see my tax dollars going to promote a socially divisive cult of weak minds. Besides we are all atheist. Christians are atheist to all other religions and they are all atheist to christianity. I chose to take it one step further and not believe any of them. It's time that separation of church and state is taken serious. The largest minority in the country (nonbelievers) are getting tired of this crap. It's not getting better, just getting old

    July 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Sheila

      The term "athiest" refers to someone who does not believe in ANY Supreme Being, not someone who believes in a different Supreme Being. Christians, Jews, Moslems are NOT athiests at all.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Scott

      The only myth is "separation of Church and State". It does not exist. Atheists – Please shut up and read the Bill of Rights before you display your ignorance. The Establishment Clause was inserted specifically to prevent a "Church of England" situation where the crown PREVENTED all other religions from being practices. The Founders were religious men who believed religion and religious freedoms were essential to a prosperous society.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  19. Daniëlle

    What's wrong with "Seven Hero's Way"? Heaven is a religious concept and therefor should not be on a public sign.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • jazzie

      Correct me if I'm wrong...but my understanding is that atheists don't believe in the existence of "God". If that is true...then "God" is equivalent to nothing – zero, zilch, nada. Why then would atheists be up and arms against something that is conceptually stupid? People don't waste their time and energy on "nothingness"...just think about that.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • YBP

      Jazzie, thanks for trying to be logical. But your not on firm ground from the start. Unfortunately you sound like an ignoramous. Learn about the history of religion, particularly Christianity. Then you may understand why the human race needs to eradicate it entirely in order to survive.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Scott

      100% wrong. There is nothing wrong with a "religious concept" being on a public sign. Americans really need to take 5 minutes and read the Bill of Rights some time. There is NO such thing as the "Separation of Church and State". The "Establishment Clause" of the 1st Amendment prevents the establishment of a National Religion that prevents free practice of another religion (see the Church of England in the 18th century).

      The Ten Commandments on a courtroom wall does not prevent any Muslim from kneeling toward Mecca 5 times daily.
      A Christmas Tree in a school does not prevent a Jewish student from celebrating Chanukah.
      Even worse is this. Heaven is a religious "concept" represented in the major religions of the world. It cannot even be tied to a specific religion.

      Atheists claim anyone that believes in God is a fool, yet they apparently lack basic reading comprehension. But what I really can't understand is why atheists care if anyone believes in an imaginary concept/being. How exactly does a "false idol" or "Seven in Heaven way" harm your rights as an American? Why not just shake your head and snicker knowing how dumb we are cause frankly that's what we do with you.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • smuzer02

      I have a friend named Danielle who is a Christian. Please remove your religious name from this website. Thanks.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  20. che-3

    Hah!

    July 7, 2011 at 2:48 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.