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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. John

    He speaks to those who believe in him and he listens. And HE will judged. You will be judged. There is no way around it my friend.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  2. AverageJoe

    Ironically, the atheist quoted in this article has as strong a belief - or faith - that there is no God as others have that there is a God. Faith is all either side has in this debate of whether there is a God. Atheists and people like Stephen Hawking don't know squat about why we're here or how we got here. Big Bang? Really? What was here before that? Nothing? How did the first anything ever come into being? Or, from the other side, was there some sort of existence (God?) that created the Earth, the Universe and whatever. I can't profess to know one way or another beyond my human doubt. I believe something helped us to exist because the odds against us existing as a matter of pure chance and evolution is pretty unbelievable to me. Yet here we are. Don't care if you believe in evolution. Don't care what you don't believe in either.

    What I absolutely care about is freedom of speech. And what I find horrifying in this story is the attempt to attack freedom of speech in the name of Separation of Church and State. The atheists won't be happy unless they manage to chase all religious followers of any type into the underground. Why does it burn their ears or eyes to hear or see a reference to religion? Why do atheists–these atheists–feel so put upon that they decide to shout down the freedom to discuss religion and practice that religion anywhere? Whether a public place or not?

    Go get some help and stop wasting time and money on such a completely selfish cause.

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

      man, athiesm requires no faith at all. faith is believing in something without any evidence to support it. athiesm is NOT believing something because of the lack of evidence. on top of that, athiesm and science are two completely different things. one does not have to be athiest to be a scientist and visa versa. however, the difference between religious figures and, to use your example, stephen hawking is that hawking will be the first person to tell you he doesn't know what happened before the big bang or what kicked off life on our planet, but he can very eloquently explain to you and present you and astounding amount of evidence as to why we've come to the conclusion that the big bang happened or why evolution is so heavily supported. After millions of the greatest minds in human history spent centuries making observations, calculations and collecting data under extreme levels of scrutiny from doubters and competing scientists alike, after billions of dollars spent in research, you can't possibly be suggesting that a group that claims to "just know" has comparable credibility on these subjects. Just because you don't understand the theories or how they were created, doesn't mean that somebody had to make a leap of faith to come to the same conclusion. for instance, why do we think the big bang happened? Because we can measure the movement of celestial bodies and doing so makes its apparent that the universe is expanding almost like a ripple in a pool of water does. the obvious hypothesis that you come up with when you run that expansion in reverse is that everything came from a single point. based on the rate of expansion, size and age of the universe and the amount of matter, it was predicted that if there was a big bang there would be a specific level of background radiation as bit of a cosmic left-over. well that background radiation was accidentally and independently confirmed by a group that had no knowledge of the research that predicted that background radiation. That alone is enough evidence to expand on the theory.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • AverageJoe

      As I said, Hawking cannot explain what was here before the Big Bang. So he doesn't have any better idea why we are here or how. Knowing there was a Big Bang is not an answer to how we got here. And it doesn't prove God doesn't exist. Atheists, by the way, believe there is no God. They believe that. To say they don't believe in anything is wrong.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • BR

      @AverageJoe – Exactly wrong. Atheists, generally, assert that the existence of any deity has never been reliably demonstrated. Just because you don’t understand the Big Bang Theory doesn’t invalidate it. Most people don’t. It’s incredibly complex quantum physics. So is neurosurgery but presumably you wouldn’t dismiss that. And in the end, postulating a ‘god’ answers absolutely nothing because as complicated a concept as the Big Bang is, ‘god’ by definition must be infinitely more complicated. Evolution by natural selection is the exact opposite of chance. Read up on it a little and understand what it is you think you can refute.
      This issue isn’t about free speech. Free speech is not a right of the government, but of the people. You can say, essentially, anything you want. You’re doing it right now. You can practice any non-sensical mumbo-jumbo you like. The point is that the government put up the sign and used your/our money to do it, therefore it is in violation of the establishment clause.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • AverageJoe

      BR ... what came before the Big Bang? If you are not going to read what I wrote carefully, don't shoot off your mouth about how much smarter you are or how much smarter the scientists and physicists and all the rest are at theorizing how we all ended up on this planet. They are incredible at what they do. I do not need to be a physicist or a scientist to know they don't have any concrete, absolute answer as to how we came to be here or why. That's been my point and remains my point. Can't help it if you simply want to shout down the tough questions I'm asking. If there was nothing before the Big Bang, there would always be nothing. To have a Big Bang, however, there had to be something. What? You're suggesting that someone on this planet actually knows the answer to that question without a shred of human doubt? Please just tell me who that is so I can do the research and reading you suggest. Otherwise, stop dismissing other people as idiots just because you don't agree with them. And you have the whole government and religion issue warped. The government can be involved with putting up signs like that ... it is not a violation of the Separation of Church and State. Stop suggesting that it is. And, just for fun, this is a freedom of speech issue. So there.

      July 8, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  3. Lois

    Looks like some "free thinkers" must be holding their unemployment line up, because clearly they've got to much time on their hands if a little street sign can bother them so much. Got to blame something for being whiny baby losers, why not a street sign. After all an inatimate object can really shove religion down some ones throat. Anyone who says that they are making a big stink over a street sign that says heaven, claiming it infringes on their right not to believe in God...all things being equal, then you need to go because you're infringing on my right not to have to believe in nuckle dragging morons. If a sign forces you to believe, then you force me to believe. AMEN AND GOD BLESS YOU!

    July 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  4. Jason

    As an atheist myself, I believe these folks are wrong (those filing the lawsuit). "Heaven" is a broad term which has spiritual and nonspiritual meanings. It does not promote a specific religion or spiritual belief. If the sign said "7 with Jesus" then it would be an offense, but it does not.

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

      I am an atheist as well, Jason. Although I think it's a stupid name for a street, I have no objections to the reference to heaven. Next street name will probably be "Knick knack patty whack give the dog a bone boulevard."

      July 7, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  5. Jeff in Illinois

    I object to this street name on the grounds that it's just too darn long!

    July 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  6. Local Man

    I'm an atheist, but man, you have to pick your battles, and this is rediculous. This sign and the belief it promotes is shared by the families of the victims, and by the victims themselves.

    This is not really an example of religion being forced on anyone, or on the government endorsing or mandating belief in any kind of god.

    Nothing makes my atheist blood boil more than when a government or a religious group pushes their religion, favors one religion over another, or states that a lack of faith is somehow immoral. I cringe when I speak to people who just automatically assume I must be Christian, because everybody else is. Keep your faith out of my face, and I'll keep my lack of it out of yours.

    But protesting this is stupid. This is going to do nothing but make all atheists look like the militant blow-hards that so many people think we are already. Way to go.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  7. James

    I'm an atheist and I think these atheists are becoming just like every other special interest group in fighting over every little thing and always looking for a reason to get their cause noticed. The sign is not offensive and doesn't hurt you any more than gay marriage harms Christians. Just shut up.

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

      I agree. They are becoming almost as annoying as the preachy religious groups.

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

      I agree, groups like that just make us non-believers look like whiners and nitpickers.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  8. King Dave2

    I doubt however if atheist do not get their way, they will hijack planes or place bombs in clinics.....

    July 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  9. A Christian

    Being a Christian, of course, I believe that the sign is an expression of grief for loved ones lost, but also a comfort because the thought of being in heaven is a welcome thought. Normally, I think that state and religion must be kept totally separate, simply because we have people of every religion living here, plus the right to practice any religion of our choice. The sign, to me, is a symbol of love and the promise of a better life. I can't visualize that any practical person would be against this sign.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  10. bubbahu?

    it is people like bronstein that cause too much dissent and ruin good intentions of others. this is a free nation [ supposed to be ]
    which means it is the right of the powers to be to put a street sign of choice . if you do not like the way the sign reads , take the other road !
    the sign does not say "god" nor does it specify any religion .
    this is one messed up cult and i do mean cult !

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

      What other religion has "a Heaven"?

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

      bubbahu, even though I think these atheists are being completely anal, I still have to disagree entirely with all of your reasoning. None of it makes any sense at all.

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

      That's ridiculous. Heaven can also be used as an adjective to describe something which is surreal and pleasant. Is it an oxymoron for an atheist to call a place they visited and described as 'heaven'? I think not. From a legal point of view, I think the intrepertation has several different meanings. If they take it to court, they will lose.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  11. tao

    Good for them. I am so sick of seeing public displays of religion. Keep that crap in your bedrooms, homes, and cult meetings every sunday.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  12. tmm77625

    Seriously? You want to pick a fight over this? I thought you atheists all prided yourself on being "too smart" to believe in an invisible man controlling the universe, but smart people normally know which battles to pick, and this is plain stupid.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Ed

      Although an agnostic, I agree. The term "heaven" is not even tied to a particular religion and is a pretty broad notion.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  13. the real john

    Hundreds of people named jesus, john, paul, peter, mary, joseph, etc, are now under attack by the atheists who want to change their names to "person formerly known as religious figure"

    July 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • scott

      A person is not public property.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  14. Moogie

    Alot of people here are missing the main point. Atheists are ensuring that Christianity (that being the primary religion that is focused on advertising and recruiting) does NOT intrude their religion on public and/or government property that is funded by taxpayers. It is to keep the separation of Church and State that ensures NO religion intrudes or influences government and elected officials. It is the same protest held by the ACLU and other organizations. Christianity has already immersed itself on the airways, on billboards, on endless church properties; not to mention occasionally harassing me at me home. Does anyone see a pattern here?

    July 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  15. Ben

    I'm an Atheist myself but wanted to say this is a miscued allocation of time and effort on the NYCA's behalf. I'm about fair play and the very freedom that allows us as Atheists to be able to believe what we want and practice such is the same freedom that allows any other group to do just the same. If the people this sign is honoring believed in God, then so be it. Let them be and focus your attention on things that matter. That's their (and their family's beliefs) and it's their right to be able to put something like that up. If you don't like it, don't look at it just as you wouldn't go to a church or spend your time there. C'mon, you live in NY and don't look at street signs anyway. You use buildings and landmarks. No one's "shoving anything down your throat."

    I understand it's a city-funded and city-approved thing but who cares? It's just a sign. I seriously don't understand why people waste their time making arguments like this that have no bearing on helping ALL PEOPLE get along. It's absurd. If this bothers you, then why don't you make a stink about all the signs on churches being publicly visible? Better yet, why don't you complain about the churches existing in the first place where we can all see them? Get real. Let them be.

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

      Thanks Ben. Very well stated. I am a believer – a Christian and share your view – Let it be.

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

      Churches can do what they want because they are doing it with their own funds. This sign was put up with tax payers dollars, on a public street owned and maintained by the city. While I tend to agree that there are bigger matters relating to the seperation between church and state, the fact remains that it is innaporpriate to fund religious statements with public funds.

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

      Thank you. I don't happen to be an atheist myself, but I also support fair play and the right to believe what one wants. If the people honored by the sign didn't happen to believe in God, a memorial without religious references would be the appropriate and respectful choice, and if in this case they did, the existing sign is suitable and appropriate. I appreciate your leaving a balanced and reasonable comment on the sort of topic that often generates the exact opposite (from both sides, unfortunately).

      July 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  16. BrewtownPsych

    I think it's funny how all of a sudden there are soooo many "non-believers" and "atheists" who lead with that, in the go one to give the very typical Christian line. Based on informal polling holy schnikeys there are a lot of atheists! so phony, it's unbelievable. If it said "7 with Allah" you people would be freakin. And for those of you who say this is atheism pushing it's agenda, that's a false equivalency. They are not saying it must read "7 not in heaven", they are just saying don't add a religous (or non-religious) element either way. Man it's just that simple.

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

      I noticed that. Tons of, "I'm an atheist, but............" I'd like to think that many of us are happily getting in the conversation even if it disagrees with my take, but so many of the screen names sound bogus.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  17. george busch

    Athiests (of which I am one) – you need to choose your battles wisely. This is stupid – there is nothing to be gained here and the sign does no harm.. But making it a national story only winds up the right-wing nuts. I still let the kids believe in Santa until they are old enough to stop believing on their own. Let the zealots find their own way – don't give them a reason to rally.

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

      Atheist here and I agree 100%. This is about as stupid as stupid gets. I wonder if this dude refuses to use money because it has, "In God We Trust" on it.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  18. John

    There is a God and he will judge everyone.

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

      And how will he judge this?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • george busch

      "Judge not lest ye be judged yourself."
      Wasn't it your prophet who said that.
      2100 years ago before he died.
      He hasn't said anything since.

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

      Which god? There are hundreds to choose from. I prefer Odin myself. One day the Valkeries will sweep the battlefield and judge me worthy of Valhalla. Where I can fight all day and feast all night.

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

      Good luck then...

      July 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • SHRIKE

      And the Valkyrie rides and there's Death at her side / her visage is graven in black /
      For when Odin decides and the Valkyrie rides / you know she will never turn back.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • what god?

      but i thought god was loving and kind hearted? why would you fear such a being? it's quite interesting to hear all the followers of the "one, true god" come down so harshly and so quickly on those that do not believe in the same god (or any god at all) when the followers are taught their entire lives to be accepting and to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". the hypocrisy in our society is unbelievable.

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

      I hope it's not simon cowell, that can guy be SO mean!

      July 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  19. Donna

    Hopefully these few fanatics won't force the city to change the street sign. It's a sign..Let it be. Why do the many have to do what the few say? More of obama change, I guess.

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

      Bringing Obama into it? Where is the connection to this story and Obama?

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

      Now my day is complete. I was wondering how long it would take me to find an Obama comment in here. I LOVE IT. Thanks Donna for the entertainment. It is almost like the Christian version of a Rick-Roll.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • george busch

      And we all hope Donna will be very happy when he is re-elected for another 4 years. Perhaps if she prays real hard to her God he will answer her prayers and let someone else in. Pray hard, Donna – and throw in a little fasting to show you are sincere.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  20. MassiveMarbles

    Funny how hypocrites can agree with a "Heavenly" sign yet lobby against a holy mosque. Human nature is still in its infancy.

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

      "Human nature is still in its infancy." I'd say it hasn't changed in thousands of years myself.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • george busch

      Ouch. The truth really hurts. "Don't judge me. bro..."

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

      One involves christian beliefs, the other involved non-christian beliefs. "Hypocrites!" – Jesus

      July 7, 2011 at 3:38 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.