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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. lady-n

    I'm an atheist and I think this is dumb. But a lot of the people in this comment box are still ignorant IMO.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Tinkerer

      These Atheists are upset by it because it uses a word that is contrary to their faith.
      An actual rational Agnostic, however, would have no issue with it.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  2. Rob

    As an agnostic I have to say these groups are no different than the crazy evangelical christians who want to turn this country into a theocracy. This is a street sign, move on to something real.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • dd2011

      Thank You.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  3. JR

    Here's a novel idea: Those who don't believe in Heaven can call it RICHARDS ST. They didn't CHANGE THE NAME, people! Breathe into the paper bag...

    July 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  4. EuphoriCrest

    As an atheist, this is the silly kind of protest that gives the religious community ammunition to ridicule atheism. The sign should not be offensive to any atheist. Let's get back to the real issues.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  5. Desmond Donnelly

    The word "secular" has morphed into the opposite of what the word was originally intended to mean which was a state where all religions were permitted equal freedom of expression. Currently, the word now means "all religions are equally suppressed". Secular doesn't mean the absence of religion. It means all religions have equal rights and anyone can express their views in whatever way they like. A street sign should therefore be allowed to express any religious belief – Allah Way, or Buddha Bay or ChristTown Avenue. Atheists forget that atheism itself is a religion (defined as being bound to a "way of life"). Like a lot of religions, it is they who are trying to force their version down our throats. "Our god (rationalism) is a jealous god and will accept no other gods before Him."

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

      This is incorrect. Secular means "1. Worldly rather than spiritual. 2. Not specifically relating to religion or to a religious body."

      That means the government should be one which does not specifically relate to any religion. This sign is state sponsored promotion of Christianity.

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

      VERY good point, Desmond. Right on!

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

      Atheism is also not a religion. Atheism has no dogmas, rituals, statements or beliefs other than to state that there is no god. That is it. Atheists can be pro choice, pro life, republican, democrat, libertarian, vegitarian, meat eating, etc. The only thing athiests have in common is the lack of belief in a god.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Tinkerer

      The problem is, many religions have a heaven, an many of these predate Christianity. The word 'heaven' cannot be said to be specifically linked to any one specific religion.

      Icebalm, what you say about the diversity of athiests, applies word-for-word to Christians. They can be "pro choice, pro life, republican, democrat, libertarian, vegitarian, meat eating, etc. ".

      A "belief" that something does not exist, is still a belief. It cannot be proved scientifically that God does not exist. Therefor you except your 'faith' in your 'belief' that he does not. That is Atheism, and the more 'militant' Atheists preach their faith to others, whether they want to hear it or not.

      Agnosticisim, on the otherhand, is the RATIONAL view that claims as to the existence, or non-existance higher deity are unknowable, and un-provable by the scientific method.

      To sum up, Atheism is a BELIEF, not unlike religion. It is not based on facts, but on faith.
      Agnosticism is a rational, facts-based view of the world, and make no claims (unlike Atheism and Religion) as to the existence of any deity or higher power.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You need a new dictionary, dude.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Desmond Donnelly

      Actually, I am correct in defining the origin of the term secular. Panic not, however, you too are correct – the dictionary does presently define the word as "non-religious". My point is that this happened about 150 years ago. This definition originated in the mid 19th Century in the works of Holyoake and his fellow atheists. Before that time secular did not mean non-religious. It was simply meant to define the secular clergy as opposed to regular clergy. Secular clergy were priests who dealt with the world at large while regular clergy were the ones in monastic orders – those who based their lives on strict religious rules and disciplines. The term "Secular" simply meant "of the world" – a RELIGIOUS point of view embedded in and dealing with more worldly concerns. Later a great divide occurred – an assumption that "of the world' was somehow opposed to "of god" and therefore divorced from anything spiritual or religious. It was a gradual morphing of the definition into something it was never intended to mean. The original purpose of becoming a secular society was to lessen the political dominance of orthodox religion (i.e. – the Catholic Church – and more specifically, the rule-driven monastic orders). Nobody ever dreamed that it would turn into a great purge of all religion and all religious points of view.

      July 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  6. C from Iowa

    "We’re supposed to be a secular nation – there really should not be any religious symbolism or signage in public places"

    I wonder how they explain away the references to Nature's God and the Creator in the Declaration of Independence. I guess our nation's founders didn't get the memo that they were setting up a purely secular nation.

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

      Good point, C from Iowa.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The nation's founders knew exactly that. It's the people who don't educated themselves who don't understand the difference between 'secular' and 'atheistic'.

      I think the street sign is a non-issue; what is not is the fact that this is, indeed, a country that is considered secular by anyone who understands what the word means. We are not a Christian state, as Israel is a Jewish state. We are not a theocracy. We do not have a state religion. The Bible is not the standard by which our laws and policies are made.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  7. Yep

    I'm an atheist also, but this story makes me sick. These men lost their lives doing something heroic; if nothing else, let the word "heaven" represent the honor and respect they garnered in their sacrifice.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • dd2011

      Absolutely. It frustrates me to take something such as 9/11 and turn it into an argument such as this one.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  8. John

    @ Kenneth Bronstein, President of New York City Atheists, on your comment "don't shove it down our throat" what if we're tired of you shoving your crap down our throat. Works both ways you know.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Chris Christie

      No one is shoving anythign down your throat, but YOU have been shoving your BS down people's throats for a very long time.

      You're just upset that an opposing point of view now is exercising their rights.

      You are a hypocrite.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Joni

      People, really? If it doens't concern you, don't take offense! Does that sign REALLY offend you? Don't look at it! Does my belief and love of God offend you? Who cares! Your disbelief offends ME! You people are foolish. You're saying Christians should suck it up and let you have everything your way? Fair is fair, right? You want God removed from public places. We want God EVERYWHERE! Who wins? You do...for now.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • AgentJ

      Seriously. What if it were called Valhalla lane? Would this group construe that as government sponsorship of the religion of Norse Paganism?

      I for one would have no problem with a road being called that. (Actually, a quick search reveals hundreds of roads named this around the country.) Besides, many religions trump Christianity as being the first to come up with the concept of heaven, so the groups argument is unsound by even their own standards.

      The freedom from government sponsorship of religion is not the same as the freedom to never see a word or symbol that reminds them of a religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Tinkerer

      If you want to call a street Atheist Drive, go ahead. No Agnostics, Christians, Jews, or Muslims will file lawsuits, unlike these militant atheist drama queen tools.

      These people trying to block the naming of a street as a 9/11 memorial with their lawsuit, are comparable to the Republicans blocking the raising of the debt ceiling, despite the negative effects it will have on the country. They should grow up and concern themselves with more important issues.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  9. Nataly

    Jesus Loves You, and He is coming soon. . .
    Keep the sign

    July 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  10. God

    I am God. I suspect there is no convincing you but you need to take it on faith. I am the supreme being and creator of all but, I hate to break it to you, I never made a place called heaven. You're just going to be worm food. Sorry guys.

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

      ... but I do agree.. it's just a freakin' sign. Let it go my children.

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

      Thank you, God.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  11. Major

    Those who have a problem with a sign like that need to look at their own intolerance and prejudice.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  12. John

    Atheists are really starting to make me sick

    July 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Chris Christie

      Good. You've been making us sick for a very long time. Choke on your vomit.

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

      Hate much, Chris?

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

      just let it be known there are more than one 'john' on this forum. athiest dont make ME sick. i work with one. he never even talks about god. calls these guys "born again athiests". nothing makes me sick except that BLT i just ate for lunch

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

      as an atheist, I think these atheists take themselves too seriously. To the poster who is disgusted by atheists, I'm sorry I disgust you. I'm actually a pretty decent guy but I need to be true to what I believe. Wish it didn't make me so disgusting to some

      July 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • dd2011

      Get a life, Chris.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • P Man

      these aren't atheists, these are political activists. Not the same. They are to atheism, what the Westboro Baptists are to Christianity. Real atheists dont care about things like this. We also dont care about nativity scenes on the courthouse front lawn or white crosses on a hill in a national park. What you do with your imaginary being is of no consequence to us. More over actual people who dont put any stock in your deity will not waste their time fighting stupidity like this. Its just not a big deal to us. the only people it is a big deal to are the ones that want to get their name in the paper showing that they are doing what they think everyone else should do. So please dont mistake these morons as indicative of every atheist.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  13. jazzie

    Correct me if I'm wrong...but my understanding is that atheists don't believe in the existence of a "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 or nonexistence? People don't waste their time and energy on "nothingness". Why are atheists bothered so much with something that does not exist in the first place?

    Just think about that.

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

      Oh Jazzie, I know it might SOUND smart in your head, but please try to rethink before you type. You realize most atheists are up in arms is not because of the theology, but what it makes be DO, how it dictates their ACTIONS, you know, like restricting rights and all that.

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

      I'm just curious...what rights were restricted by the sign?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Kevin D.

      Excellent point. Also, how is this sign in any way promoting religion (which is the only basis to prohibit this signage)?

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

      Good points, Jazzie and Chris.

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

      Pertaining to this specific article, I could care less what a sign says and if it refers to religion, there's a lot worse things out there. You can make the argument that it's taking taxpayer money to fund something inherintly religious, but I think that falls flat on its face too, though for anyone who thinks that Jazzie makes a good point should probably reread her post, ever heard of the old adage, you can give a monkey a typewriter and give him enough time and he'll write shakespeare. Jazzie has proven she can write english, the content though needs a little more work and thought.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Kerry Daniel

      I have a feeling the reason has something to do with the inordinate amount of , money, time and energy wasted by believers, especially those who cram it down everyone else's throats, when there are so many pressing problems and issued to be resolved here on earth. We know this life exists; the other is imaginary. With limited resources, why not put them to best use?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • A Believer

      So what is your point exactly Laughing? Do you believe in the existence of God? If you don't believe in the existence of God, then Jazzie's point is valid.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ A Believer

      No, the idea of god is stupid. though just because now I have told you that I don't believe in god does not, repeat DOES NOT make jazzie's point valid in the slightest. Her point of, "well if they don't believe it why are they so angry at something they don't think exists" is wrong from the get-go. Ask an atheist, any atheist will do, how they feel about god, you'll mostly find ambivalance, maybe a few who think he's probably a tool. Now ask an atheist about religion and you'll get a pretty vehement ICK from them. Do you see? For instance Harry Potter is great, I don't believe Harry is real, BUT for the Harrypotterheads out there who might want to make, say quidditch the national sport of America, well then I'm sure many people would get up in arms and angry. It has nothing to do with believing if harry is real or imaginary, its the consequences once someone has decided to believing in the spaceman and seem to think they're getting secret messages that it becomes a problem.

      Then again I think if you really think jazzie even has a semblence of a point then that explanation would be lost on you. Womp Womp

      July 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  14. ConradBezo

    I am an atheist and I think this is dumb

    July 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Mike6000

      Ditto. Atheists or Religious people that do these type of things need to focus their energy on more productive activities.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Libra Lisa

      Than you are not an Atheist. If you were you would understand why this is a problem. It starts with a sign, and it is accepted, so then the Jesus freaks will always push harder to shove their religion down our collective throats. I can see it now...passing out Bibles, selling holy water by jug, or Jesus statues all over.

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

      I wish more atheists were like you, Conrad. That is, the "live and let live" type.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • P Man

      A lot more of them are like this than you can imagine petercha.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  15. Bible Clown

    Absolutely stupid, leave the sign alone. There's a huge difference between "I never go to church" and "I'm a stupid militant God-basher." Don't make me get out the Clown Hammer©.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  16. nirad6766

    Peace & Love

    July 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  17. Obtuse

    To question the existence of something is to acknowledge its potential to exist. I don't believe in atheists, but if they were to exist, I'd imagine that they were all incapable of not having the brain capacity to think outside of the box a little, and believe in the unseen.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Chris Christie

      What a load of horse feces. Your box is the bible. You cannot think outside of it. You are a hypocrite.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Libra Lisa

      It must be crowded in your head with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunn too..... 'God" is the same thing people. Wake up.....

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

      Does it count if I believe that black holes exist, they are unseen (in fact they're impossble to see), does that count. Then again there's a lot of evidence to prove that black holes exist, can the same be said of Zeus?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Bend over and let me hit you with the Clown Hammer©. There, do you believe in that? I believe in lots of immaterial things; point out Loyalty or Love on the street some day if you can. It's hard to draw a picture of Patriotism, or Self-sacrifice, or Determination, but I've got no doubt these things exist. Heck, I can even imagine this atheist group is doing this because they think it's right, and not just to make people mad. but I still say they are butt monkeys and I say the sign's fine. Expand your mind, obtuse fellow, because people don't fit into neat categories.

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

    People will sue over a sign, but will not stand-up to the government and big business that is ruining our county. Prioritize much?

    July 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Chris Christie

      How are YOU standing up against those things?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  19. Frustrated

    Come on people.. It's a freak'n sign.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  20. hecep

    I'm an atheist, but I have no more problem with the sign than I do with the ones in Disneyland.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:02 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.