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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. TheWiz71

    "We're supposed to be a secular nation". WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. We're supposed to be a nation that has the separation of Church and State (for their mutual protection), not an atheist state, as those who oppose this sign like to suppose (which, in a manner of speaking would be the imposition of one faith on others, in that atheism is, in the end, a leap of faith in itself). There is a difference between general allusions to spirituality and non-specific references to some kind of supreme being, or an undefined afterlife in the public realm and imposing the doctrine or beliefs of a specific religion or sect on the government or the people. This is not the latter. One of the founding principles of most western democracies, including the U.S. is the belief in some kind of higher power to whom all authority is ultimately accountable. If atheists don't like it, then too bad.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Michael

      Who said anything about making an atheist state? No one is preventing your beliefs. And if this sign is taken down (and for the record, I am of the opinion that it should not be) no one will be trampling on your beliefs even then.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      And how is the reference to "heaven" a reference specifically to Christianity? I believe Muslims believe in heaven as well (although I'm willing to stand corrected). But, beyond there, there is a general amorphous belief in heaven that is in the popular imagination. Some of us believe it to be real, others think of it perhaps in more metaphorical terms. But, I don't see a specific reference to Christianity here. Some people just want to look for stuff to hate sometimes.

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

      Wow you are some sort of idiot. I do not even where to begin.

      We are a secular state. Why do you think we do not have a state religion? I am an atheist and I believe in democracy According to you that is incorrect because I have to answer to your magical man in the sky to practice democracy. How is being atheist a leap of faith? Give me proof as to why I should believe in God. Oh wait there is none.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      @Michael – fair enough. But, the forced removal of all references to faith and spirituality in the public sphere will in practice create exactly that. Not saying we are, or ought to be, a "Christian nation" as so many Southern Baptists and other religious right people like to proclaim and strive for. But, certainly having allusions and references to things pertaining to faith is in keeping with our founding principles, while atheists have every right to hold their beliefs as they wish, but ought not have the right to force them on others in the public sphere either.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Laughing

      And here I thought everyone has a right to be heard. You are right this nation was not founded as a secular nation and there is the express law of separation of church and state, so why try to impose religious law (christian law specifically) on everyone. When this country was founded it was (and does) protect people from tyrannical religions like yours. It's cool you think that you need a leap of faith to be an atheist, so question: First, it's less of a leap to go with the facts and realize there isn't a god than there being a magic man in space who can read minds, but yes your right I believe that there is no god which in itself is a leap of faith, at what point have you met an atheist who disagrees with this? More to the point, how does having faith (what a loaded word that is huh?) in anything, whether it being religion, or the fact that we are on a rocky ball orbiting around an exploding star take away from the fact that we're sure there is no god?

      So please, keep your doctrine out of my laws and my way of life, and maybe even give a better life to human beings who are only put down because your god tells you to

      For the record, this whole sign thing is stupid, if I'm going to try and fend off religious lunitics from taking my gov. it's not going to be with changing a sign's name

      July 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      @Spiffy, you miss my point. Perhaps we're getting caught up on the word "secular". We are meant to be secular only insofar as the government is not to establish any religion as official, and that there needs to be a separation of the governance of the nation and the governance of the "Church" (to use a general term for religion and spirituality). A truly secular state is one that rejects any inference of God or heaven, or spirituality of any kind, which any basic reading of American history, and any basic understanding of the founding principles of the nation belies. In this particular context, contrary to the one person in the article says, this is not a specific reference to any particular faith (if it were, I would oppose it as well), and therefore ought not to be ejected out of hand from this public space.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • TheWiz71

      @Laughing – Who said I was Christian? I happen to be, but NOTHING in my post is advocating the establishment or intrusion of Christian doctrine, dogma, or belief (or to use your crude term "laws") into the governance of the nation. If you actually read my post, you will see that I am arguing that general allusions to faith (without being specific about it) in the public sphere are not out of keeping with the separation of "Church and State", such separation I wholeheartedly advocate.

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

      @ TheWiz71

      And yet gay people still can't get married and abortion is a hot-button issue

      How interesting

      July 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Just because we have been influenced by religions in our society does not mean that our government cannot be a secular one. Our government I feel supports religious organizations way too much as it is. With their tax breaks. You are right in saying that we are not a secular government. That is because the religious try to make their beliefs public policy.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Secular does not mean atheist. Get a clue.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Saying atheism is a leap of faith doesn't make it so. And saying democracy is the same as god-worship doesn't make it so either.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  2. JT

    As an atheist, this is ridiculous to make a big deal over this. We atheists have much more important battles to fight than something like this. This only makes it just that much more difficult on us and makes atheists look petty.

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

      This is exactly what we should be fighting. The use of public money to fund a religious belief.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  3. closetiguana

    I wonder what the chances of a "God-less Ave" replacing the sign.

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

      I have a feeling that if it did say God-less Ave then there would be a huge influx of religious people yelling to change it, so why not change it when it implies that there is a God?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  4. jackie

    Hey atheists: On the US $1 bill it says "In God We Trust", you people going to try and change that?!??!

    PS Those firefighters risked their lives to save people on 9/11....they did not care what religion they were.

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

      Funny, when I spend money it just says Visa on it. No mention of God anywhere.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Actually yes. I would like to change that. I sure do not trust in God. Why would I trust something that doesn't exist? Do you trust unicorns?

      Those firefighters may not have discriminated against who the saved but it is still not appropriate to use public funds to make a sign that supports any religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • james

      I agree with removing "in god we trust" from our money it was put there durring the communist scare and was a very petty thing to do. That I believe violates the seperation of church and state. The sign is describing a destination that we may or may not believe in but does not referance any religion or god so I think its fine.

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

      ...hey Spiffy...it must stink to be you.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Why does it stink to be me?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      The sign's fine, but yes, I would like God taken off my money. Good idea, let's do it.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  5. John

    Hey george busch, you don't know what you're talking about you silly moron! I

    July 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  6. mf08

    A fellow atheist, I find this trivial and ridiculous.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Why use public money to make a sign that supports a religion?

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

      @Spiffy – It is not supporting any religion. It is honoring heroes in a way that is consistent with THEIR beliefs.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Spiffy

      @Steve while using public funds.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Me too. Maybe say 'next time, keep it secular' but leave this sign alone.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  7. BrewtownPsych

    @ Rob - exactly. The hypocrite judgemental cases are out again. If you think the atheists are ridiculous for this (and they may indeed be just that) answer the question Rob at July 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm poses honestly before you throw in your own two cents.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  8. Atheist

    Normally something like this wouldn't bother me, but now that someone has brought it up. I think it should be changed, based solely on the fact that someone was offended that their money (their tax dollars) were spent on a religious object, the sign, and that our country is supposed to be without religion. So if our country is supposed to be without religion, then the group of people without religion, the atheists, should get the say on whether or not their money should be used for something like this.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Dee

      Our country is supposed to be freedom from religion, not without. That anyone is free to practice as they believe, or do not believe and be free from oppression or persecution because of what they believe or don't.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Atheist

      I suppose you are right.... But would you want a sign removed if it said God-less Ave. or Satan St. or Koran-is-right road? Just make the sign religiousless but still honoring the fallen fire fighters and everyone would be happy.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  9. chris

    yet another special interest group asking for tolerance but putting forth none themselves.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Jerome

      I could not have said that better.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Atheists are probably the most tolerant people. Just because we completely disagree with what you believe doesn't mean we hate all religion. I think there are lessons to be learned from every religion I just chose not to believe any of what I think is silly stuff. Such as a virgin birth, speaking with angels, or believe in reincarnation.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  10. james

    To start I am an atheist. Just to put that out there. As such I really would like to know why the current uprising of militant atheists recently. We all need to face the reality that we live in a country that is predominatly christian. As such the majority will put things out there that we may not like but, who does it hurt? If it helps someone remember a loved one or just get through the day there is nothing wrong with that. Taking a militant approach makes you no better than those that moke athiests and call us hurtfull things.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  11. B-Man

    It seems to me that a bunch of athiests are pushing their own religion with is counter productive. There argument about whether or not there is a heaven should be moot at best. Although i am a non believer i do believe that people have the right to judge for themselves. If "they" dont like it "they" dont have to accept it but to say that everyone needs to believe the way they do is assanine and hyprocritical...JMO

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

      I think they should push back. They get their stuff taken down all the time so if they wanna play ball I think they should be more than welcome to.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • SARAH

      Atheists don't have a religion. Religion is man made and just a bunch of myths

      July 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • BR

      B-man...or is it BS man?
      To quote the cliche...atheism is a religion like "not-stamp collecting" is a hobby.

      We're not asking that everyone ascribe to our points of view...just to keep theirs to themselves.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  12. Unknown

    I'm a non-believer, but I would never force people to let loose their religion, which is their hope. Those people are nothing but d-bags.

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

      See believers and non-believers can agree on something lol.

      Personally I think this comment from them, "there really should not be any religious symbolism or signage in public places" is skewing or a gross misrepresentation fo the establishment clause.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  13. blah9999

    What if NY named a street, "Stairway to Heaven Street" in honor of Led Zeppelin? Would they complain about that too? Ohh, noz! The word heaven!

    July 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Right, there's nothing wrong with the sign. Maybe put up guidelines so the next one doesn't say BIN LADEN STREET or BIEBER CIRCLE or DIE AMERICA BLVD.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • BR

      No...they'd get the crud sued out of them for copyright infringement. In the end, it's still illegal.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  14. Kent

    I am an atheist and am ashamed of this group. I'm all for enforcing a secular government, but a street sign? Really?!?! Know that we are not all unreasonable like this group!

    July 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  15. TJ

    I don't believe in God and I'm all for separation of church and state but I think this is too much and stupid. Are they going to go after cities names like San Antonio, San Francisco and or cities with "San" or "Saint" in their names?. It's stupid.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • spm422

      that is a good point!!! 'San'

      July 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  16. Randy

    I realize atheists are diverse, that they aren't one monolithic political outlook or public persona, but the publicity some of them actively seek is starting to overexpose them as a group in a particularly annoying fashion. I keep hearing atheism is not a religion, but the opposite of one – but in America, at least, it seems increasingly to walk and quack like one. And I don't appreciate being bombarded with its message, its pet causes and its campaigns, any more than I appreciate being bombarded by religious evangelists. Please go away and leave me alone. Maybe the preachers and do-gooders are harassing you, but I'm not, and I seem to be the one forced to listen to you.

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

      It is not a religion. If anything it is a conglomeration of people who do not see evidence of the existence of God or any other deity. Simply, theists state there is an existence, atheists say there is no proof.

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

      Randy, I tend to agree with you. This is what we call "the vocal minority." Radicals, generally, do not represent the scope of what most adherents believe. Al-Qaida does not represent most Muslims, PETA does not represent most of those who believe in animal rights, Westboro Baptist Church doesn't represent most Christians, and I'd bet New York Athiests don't represent most athiests.

      Unfortunately, they're all the ones who speak the loudest.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      You act like atheists are all alike. We don't have a union any more than pigeons do.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • BR

      As long as you have the same message for the religious side...at least be consistent. We've all been bombarded by their rhetoric and admonitions for centuries.

      So what if the side that insists on evidence is getting vocal? We have a couple of millennia of catching up to do.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  17. noid

    Are you kidding me? The VERY money we ALL use says "In GOD we trust" and they're complaining about public use of religious references!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

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

      Whiich if funny because the government always talks about separation of church and state. They can leave me out of the "we"

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

      So the assumption is that we're OK with IGWT on our currency? Not remotely. That's like giving a police officer grief for writing you a parking ticket when there are 'real' criminals out there. It all counts.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  18. Richard Dawkins

    RobbyCanuck you are right, there is no heaven for you or these other atheists jerks like me! Hey, was that the big flying spaghetti monster I just saw!! I love Darwin and you should too. Let's stick it to these religious people by acting like jerks!

    July 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  19. TiredODaCrap

    Why wouldn't atheists strike at this point??? We're letting gays, muslims, etc, walk all over us every day. The people in those fights argue that there is "no" slippery slope argument in letting them have their ways. Well, it's definitely getting slippery out here!!!

    July 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      If you want legal justification, then consider that if 'heaven' is ok, how about ALLAH AVENUE? L.RON HUBBARD HIGHWAY? But this sign is a memorial to dead heroes, so hands off!

      July 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  20. Carlton

    Jesus Christ is Lord whether you believe it or not!!! As if you idiots have some kind of power to change that!!!

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

      The irony of you calling someone an idiot based on that weak, worthless logic.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • george busch

      Jesus was just a man and he died 2100 years ago. Nothing proves otherwise, except a collection of stories and fairy tales put together 35 years after he died and full of exagerations and contradictions. Only an idiot would take the book seriously. If it makes you happy, go ahead and belive. Just stop pushing your silly beliefs on others.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • james

      This is why I feel alienated

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

      There is no god whether you believe it or not.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Actually, the truth is the truth no matter how much you believe. Ask any poker player: you can't change a deuce to an ace by staring at it and wishing.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • JT

      You're an imbecile. I guess all Jews, atheists, Muslims are all idiots eh? It's mind numbing uneducated zealots like you who scare me most.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • SARAH

      Wow, how christianly of you to call people idiots.

      "what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence". -Christopher Hitchens.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:35 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.