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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. WOBH

    I'm an athiest but that's just stupid...

    July 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  2. mance lotter

    when will they try to change the name of the city of San Francisco? clearly, the city's religious name has turned them all into right-wing, conservative, neo-cons!

    July 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Linda

      How about all the streets named after saints? That's another one. Let's fight them all. lol

      July 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • mance lotter

      Linda, we have to change all the names of streets and places named after religious people or events because atheists believe people are too dumb to think for themselves.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  3. petercha

    I'm a Christian, but I don't mind the "live and let live" type atheists that are quiet and mind their own business. It's these whiney types that drive me nuts. Hope they lose their lawsuit and have to pay ALL court costs. But given how extremely liberal NYC is, I bet they will win. Disgusting.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • 3lwood

      I agree. These atheists are acting too much like Christians.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Joe S.

      I'm an agnostic, but I don't mind the "live and let live" type christians that are quiet and mind their own business. It's these whiney types that drive me nuts.

      do you get it? Athiests aren't putting up street signs saying "god doesn't exist". do you want them to? do you want to be bombarded with signs saying "we don't believe in an invisible man that lives in the clouds". Most agnostic and athiests don't preach their beliefs, so you shouldn't either.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Matt Slick

      Atheism is becoming more aggressive. More and more atheists are intolerant, bigoted people who hate even the mention of God in any public forum. They want God removed. Once done in the secular, they will find a way to invade churches and have them dealt with as well. Don't believe me? Look at Atheistic regimes like 20th Century Russia (Staline) and China (Mao). The separation of church and state was profound – well, not really – the state didn't leave the churches alone. It considered religion, especially Christianity, to be unhealthy to the well being of the state. Get ready Christian. The more atheism the less our freedoms! carm.org/atheism

      July 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Live and let live, except for Matt Slick. Whatever church he goes to should be shut down quickly and the members sterilized. Me, I think the sign's fine and the people protesting have a stick up their uranuses.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Sean

      @Matt Slick

      lol Classic Christian hypocrisy. Rant about intolerance and bigotry at the same time as showing your own.
      “they will find a way to invade churches and have them dealt with as well”
      That’s the best I’ve heard all week thank you. Is your halo made of tinfoil?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  4. Patti

    Im guessing these idiots with nothing better to do will soon be protesting to have churches removed from public...come on people get a life and use your time for making the world a better place...not trying to take it over....geezzz!

    July 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • petercha

      A very big AMEN to that, Patti! Great comment.

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

      Patti – well it seems that some religious folks have nothing better to do than to put up religious slogans and symbols everywhere. Keep your beliefs to yourself and this wouldn't ever be an issue.

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

      Nathan – at what point do you draw the line? Remove Church names because they reside on a government named street? Make residents put away anything that resembles religion in their own yards because it resides on a government named street and may offend you? This is ridiculous.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Patti

      Nathan....ignorant comment from an ignorant person. This is about a street sign for human beings that lost their lives trying to save others. It wasn't erected by a religious group. Whether you believe in God or not let these family members have their tribute to their loved ones memory without having to deal with this type of ignorance!!

      July 7, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Sean

      @Linda

      O Linda, Linda, Linda what a poor argument. Both the churches and residents are on PRIVATE property. If not owned by them, owned by someone. There is a difference between public/city/state/federal and private citizen. Tax payer founding for one. Hence the term Separation of church and STATE. But hey.. since when do facts matter when believe things on faith lol.

      @ Patti

      Disagreement doesn’t equate ignorance. However one can’t same the same for someone resorting to name calling in lieu of an actual argument.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Patti

      Sean.........first of all it was an ignorant comment....second......he wasn't disagreeing with me he was tell me and anyone like me to "keep your beliefs to youself". If people could agree to disagree there wouldn't be people like this protesting.....even sueing, a city over a sign that has the word "heaven" on it. Oh heavens....apparently it's not to be tolerated to be a "believer" AND to call people ignorant. Good Lord.....oops sorry, didn't mean to use a 4 letter word and offend anyone.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  5. Benjamin

    Watch how this problem is solved in one fell swoop: the city authority need only say "It's allegorical."

    I'm an atheist, and that just seems obvious.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  6. Phil

    I get the group's point, and fully support the notion that government should not espouse any particular religious belief so as to be open to all, regardless of *their* religious beliefs, but sitting here in SAINT PAUL, Minnesota, I think this one may not really get a lot of traction.

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

      Love it! I made similar comments.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  7. Guest

    @morris2196 – somebody who believes in God but wants him to go away is typically called a wounded theist.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  8. virtualgd

    Atheists are among the dumbest of all living creatures.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      But they've got a solid 50 IQ points on any religious idiot...

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

      Dumb statement. Atheist?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Matt Slick

      As a Christian Apologist (someone who defends the christian faith), I politely challenge atheists to call my radio show (carm.org/radio) and let's discuss the merits and philosophical worth of atheism. It is easy for atheists to type diatribes here, misrepresent the facts, and fail to do the proper research required for informed discussion. It is another thing to be called on the carpet, live!

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

      virtualgd – Atheists aren't the ones who believe imaginary people talk with them and guide their life. Grow up, Santa Claus isn't real, the Easter Bunny isn't real, and God (or Zeus, etc) isn't real. The world isn't THAT scary that you need to cling to these beliefs.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      My friend, I assure you that I have been speaking since I was a small child, and that my speaking voice, although it resembles that of the Crypt Keeper, is both audible and intelligible. I believe that you could disprove your theory by using YouTube to find hundreds of people speaking about atheism in perfectly normal voices; clearly most atheists are not, as you aver, dumb. Come over here and let me bop you with the Clown Hammer©. Matt, I'd be glad to debate you but I don't think you are my intellectual equal, and it would be a waste of my time. Tell you what: read BOOK OF THE NEW SUN by Gene Wolfe, all four volumes, and write a research paper for me on either dyadic pairs or the symbolism of the Rose as it applies to Severian. Make it about five pages and post it somewhere. Don't worry, it's about Christ. If you pass, I'll get back to you.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  9. Stacy

    It's funny to see how hard people try to NOT believe in God/Religion/etc. I guess everyone gets bored, what better to do than start a club and look for things that might offend people...

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

      "I guess everyone gets bored, what better to do than start a club and look for things that might offend people..."

      Is that why I have so many people knocking on my door leaving religious pamphlets trying to "save my soul"? They must be bored and irritating too.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • mance lotter

      SPIRAL – the difference is the one knocking on your door is trying to save YOUR soul, the atheist only cares for his/her OWN when he/she takes up causes like this.

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

      It’s a street SIGN.. must it be in neon? I’d hardly call that looking for things to complain about. I’d like to see the Xtian reaction had it been a reference to Islam.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • mance lotter

      So you're telling me if there is a city / state street sign in America that has a reference to anything Islamic, you want it down? Just say the word so I can call you a hypocrit if I don't see you protesting tomorrow.

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

      mance lotter – So, as long as I really believe I'm helping I can push whatever I want? That's silly. I'm glad atheists are fighting back because religious folks have pushed and pushed for years getting their stupid slogans (e.g, "in God we trust," "under God") and practices into government. Keep your beliefs to yourself. If you want to feel self-righteous about it (that YOU are saved and everyone else will suffer eternal torture in Hades), go right ahead. Go ahead, feel special for your unique connection to your imaginary friend. Leave the rest of the world out of it. Heck, if there really are only so many people that can be saved, why would you want to decrease your odds of getting in by widening the sample?

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

      @Lotter
      Sure, take it down. Along with every other reference to religion. Including “In ‘god’ we Trust on currency and “One nation under ‘god’, in our Anthem. Both relatively recent additions btw. How exactly are you going to see me do anything tomorrow? Feel free to call me whatever you like. If they are as bad as your argument it should be pretty entertaining.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  10. Heather

    I am almost an Athiest. I think this is silly, and a little unfair to the families involved. If people choose to believe in a 'heaven' that's their business. I don't, but it doesn't offend me that people do!

    I do take the Athiests point though, that those that do choose to believe in heaven do tend to ram their beliefs down others' throats. Perhaps we can have a sensible compromise.. The Heavenists can have their sign, if they promise not to make laws that affect the rest of us? 😉

    July 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  11. Geoz

    I agree with the atheists. I have had enough of the sharia-like so-called christian law in this country.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • mance lotter

      yeah, it's amazing Casey Anthony got a fair trial with this sign in existence ruining all our laws.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Nathan

      mance lotter – This sign represents an assumption that everyone beliefs the same way. That isn't true and shouldn't be paid for with public funds.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  12. BPink

    Derp, I find all this quite interesting. I am asking to only gain knowledge. How did man begin? Where do you feel that we derived on earth? Thanks!

    July 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  13. Sara

    Public officials should have put a stop to this before the sign was agreed upon. They should have known that religious terminology should not be used in government-endorsed projects.

    The irony is that there are religious people who believe 9-11's 19 hijackers went to a sort of "heaven" – the islamic Jannah. If they have enough political backing, will they one day be able to propose a government-sponsored street sign that says "19 in Jannah"?

    The complaint may seem petty but they are correct in principal and I support it. Keep religion out of government, and keep government out of our religions.

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

      I think we should do a review of all signs then. There are many signs named after Saints.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  14. Frank

    A street name is not an establishment of religion by any stretch of the imagination. This just makes atheists seem like hysterical whiners.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      As an atheist, yeah, this seems kinda dumb, and likely just to blow back up in their faces.
      But, at least they aren't overpopulating the Earth, or pretending that 'modesty' is why they have their women wear veils and walk 10 paces behind them.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Linda

      Evil ... what does that have to do with this sign and Christianity? Absolutely nothing.

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

      A PUBLIC (as in city) street sign is as close to the establishment of religion as one can get sort of passing law. Same for all the Choose Life license plates we have here in Florida.. But they sued they guy who had Atheist as his tag ‘number’. I rather be hysterical about the separation of church and state than a hypocritical ‘true believer.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  15. manyfacesofmoney

    Are you guys really debating about this? Please tell me you are kidding and this is a joke right?

    July 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  16. Alex

    They just want to pick a fight, because if they don't, just like a church their little cult won't get any funding. Weak sauce.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  17. Bribarian

    Wow, this is pretty pathetic. Atheists pretty much doing the same things Christians do now. What a bunch of hypocrites.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  18. Kevin in Atlanta

    People often forget that with Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion you also have Freedom to Ignore.

    If you don't like it, simply walk away...

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

      Why don't the sign hangers walk away from the heaven reference?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  19. Duderino

    I'm an atheist and I'm no fan of Christianity but come on, let the families of the firefighters have their sign. The people who erected the sign obviously had good intentions and this one sign isn't encroaching on anyone's rights. Making a huge deal about the the word heaven on a sign seems ridiculous and is a waste of time and money.

    I'm just not a fan of extremists on any side.

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

      I agree. There are too many real examples of religion being forced upon us in our schools and businesses. We are still fighting to keep creationism out of public education. Who cares about a street sign in NYC?

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

      Right on! Most sensible post here.. Well said.

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

      Thank you Kevin. No matter each's belief you are exactly right. We need to come together as one nation no matter what your belief is. You should love one another, be a neighbor, help out when you can. This does not identify religion only human nature and doing the right thing with your life. It is time we all quit fighting and fussing. No two people on earth will ever have the same view on any issue.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Linda

      Kevin – Me and my kids were never taught creationism in public schools.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Nathan

      BPink – Again there's this assumption that everyone beliefs the same thing. That is what is being argued here. You agree that the sign is ok because it should bring people together. Together? Using religious terminology will only push people apart. It's admirable to want to bring people together and it's much easier if you just don't use religious symbols/phrases.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  20. Rocko

    If the atheists sue, I want to sue them for emotional distress and just because they are annoying. They already have a national holiday...April 1st.

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

      I think the people who believe that some Sky Hobgoblin created the world in seven days have earned the moniker "fools" just for themselves.

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

      That's pretty funny. The guy who believes in pink invisible unicorns is calling the people who believe in science "fools." Creative.

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

      Good point, Rocko. Psalm 14:1 (NIV)
      "The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

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

      petercha – Good one... using a bible phrase to support religion. How unique!

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

      yeah, the Christians rarely rely on logic or reason or fairness, they just call names, assume what they say is true and anybody who complains are whiners. don't spend tax payer money on religious messages, it's just that damn simple sheeple. they can have their sign if they pay for it, including maintenance.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:57 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.