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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. baileym

    Athiests are the biggest complainers. They are so busy complaining about anyone pushing their beliefs on them, that they pass over the fact that they are the ones pushing their beliefs the hardest.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      in what way? its not as if they are asking the sign to be changed to '7 in the ground because heaven doesnt exist way'

      July 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • John C.

      How does complaining about christians putting their beliefs on public streets push THEIR beliefs on others? I'd agree with you if they were naming the street "No God Exists Avenue"... but they aren't.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • realitypolice

      No pushing their beliefs. Protecting their rights.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  2. Andrew

    How bout the atheists so jump off a BRIDGE AND FALL INTO NOTHINGNESS. LOL

    July 7, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • scott

      100% of the time there is ground or water under a bridge. Atheism is a belief that no god exists, not that ground or water doesn't exist under a bridge.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  3. notborncynical

    I'm an atheist and I think it's a great sign. "Heaven" does not necessarily have to be associated with Christiananity or any other religion. To me it just means the "Afterlife", and we all hope that's a better place than this one. This atheist group should learn to pick their battles – this is just stupid.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      why do you think theres an afterlife?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • OU812IC

      Atheist You do not believe in heaven
      If you do and you believe in an afterlife then you are not an atheist

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

      If your an atheist and think Heaven = afterlife then what happens in this afterlife?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • twiddly

      While I've no problem with someone suing to remove signs with religious meaning, because this was done with tax dollars, I would agree that it's likely not the most important fight.
      I'd much rather see 'in god we trust' removed from our currency and have swearing on a bible removed from our justice system.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  4. JimmyT

    So "heaven" is only a Christian word? So Muslims, Hindus, etc don't talk about this.....

    July 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  5. Becky

    I dont think that a lot of people understand what atheism is. It is non belief of any religious ideals. No god, no devil, no angels, heaven or hell. It is the belief that we are all biological creatures that live and die and when we die we are dead. Thats it. We do not believe our actions are swayed by the desire of a god, we are good (or bad) people because that is what we are. We do not blame or thank any god for anything that happens. No one gets cured from cancer because it is God"s will, nor do they die from cancer because it is God's will. Good or bad things happen because they just happen that way. I do not personally care whether or not someone else believes differently, but I don't want to have beliefs shoved down my throat any more than you want my non-beliefs shoved down yours. And yes, I am quite educated in church and the bible, which is why I do not belive in it. I do not think the goverment should make any sort of religious monument at the expense of our tax dollars. The goverment does not put up any anti-religion or athiest bilboards or signs, they are all paid for by private parties. I am sure there would be no stink made if this sign was erected by a private party like there is made about athiest signs. That is what I think the real argument is over, not the fact that this sign says heaven.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Marky Merlot

      Amen (pun intended)

      July 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Floyd

      if you were "quite educated in church and the bible" you would believe. Don't be a pretend scholar.

      7 In Nothingness does not really sound too good, nor does it make the families feel better. How about considering them instead of your massive ego?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Becky

      I am sorry if you are surprised to hear that as an athiest I am educated in the church and the bible. I was raised in a religious family, spent most of my youth and young adulthood going to church. I am very aware of it, as much as any god-fearing individual is. My children go to church with my mother all the time, one has chosen to be baptized and I attended his baptism. As you can tell I am a believer of freedom of choice. I do not have a massive ego, I am not offended by the word heaven, the point is that the goverment should not use tax dollars to support an obviously religious connotation. As a beliver how would you feel if your tax dollars had to pay for a sign that read "7 in Nothingness"? You can bet that would cause an uproar louder than this one.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  6. steve

    A street sign is not an establishment of religion by any stretch of the imagination. Atheists who are "offended" by this need to show a little more tolerance for other people's beliefs. They DEMAND tolerance for their beliefs, but are unwilling to tolerate others. It's all about honoring heroes, and a small group of evangelical atheists are trying to gain political points at the expense of honoring heroes. These particular atheists are the Westboro Baptists of the atheist world.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • realitypolice

      This has nothing to with tolerance of anyone's beliefs. When taxpayer money is being used to pay for a sign, no one's "beliefs" should be represented on this sign.

      People- this is not a religion/anti-religion debate. It is a Bill of Rights debate.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • steve

      @realitypolice – the Establishment clause prohibits congress from passing any laws that establishes a state religion. It ALSO prohibits congress from passing any laws from inhibiting people's free expression of religion. By banning this sign, it is passing a law that inhibits the expression of religion, and thus is in violation of the Establishment clause.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  7. Peter

    Hey, John: How about this: Believers like you are so scared to accept that death is the end that you make up any number of fairy tales to make you feel better about it. Fine. You have every right to. Just not on public streets. Some of us value our intelligence.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • the real john

      peter, you better change that ol biblical name before the athiests come looking for you.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Floyd

      No Peter, you only value yourself it seems.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • steve

      Peter, you may claim to value intelligence, but you certainly do not value tolerance.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  8. PTP

    This nation was founded on Christian principals which include the concept of Heaven and Hell. The majority of residents still believe in this. This is also falls in line with the 3 major religions of the world – Islam, Jewish and Christianity. The atheist are clueless.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Anthony Weiner

      Abrahamic faiths are wrong.

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

      And christian principals are based on common sense.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Sorry, but you're incorrect. This nation's government. policies and laws are not religious in nature.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  9. LL

    I'm not an Atheist, but I do agree with what this group is trying to accomplish, and the reason behind them doing so. I wonder how many so-called Christians (including those commenting on this article) would be equally offended if a sign went up in their neighborhood relaying anything outside the realm of Christianity.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Atheist

      Thank you.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Floyd

      That stuff is everywhere? Have you ever walked the streets?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Floyd

      I guess in your world then all the cities, countries, towns, hospitals, neighborhoods etc that have the word “Saint" in them or refer to anything heavenly be removed/changed. Like Los Angeles (city of Angels) or, St. Thomas, St. Paul etc etc.
      I feel bad you are so offended everywhere you go in life. It must be horrible. As you atheists would say, "grow up", or "get over it".

      July 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  10. AZMark

    We live in a secular nation, though it looks like the ReThuglicans and TEABAGGERS want to make this country into a theocracy. All references to a mythical being who lives in a mythical place in the sky, or inside the earth for that matter are ridiculus. I am an Atheist and I support their efforts to remove all references to a God in the public domain. I do not say the words "under God" when I say the pledge of allegiance. I think that "In God We Trust" should be removed from our currency and the abolishment of all federal or state holidays that have a religious component, Christmas, Easter should not be federal holidays. Crosses, Nativity scenes and Menorahs should not be on any public land. I am ok with a Christmas tree because it is not a religious symbol.

    "Beware the fish people, for they are the true enemy"

    July 7, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • PTP

      Why dont you believe in the God.
      Dont you see the world around you. You can seriously think that this was put together randomly?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Dont you see the world around you. You can seriously think that this was put together randomly?'

      yep

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

      PTP... The laws of physics are not random.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • realitypolice

      The Tea Party movement has no official positions on anything other than fiscal policies. This is a common misconception. Please go to their website and get back to me when you see anything about religion or race or social policy. Go ahead, I'll wait.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  11. the real john

    shouldnt athiests be fighting to get rid of the calender since its based on religion?

    July 7, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Michael

      Funny, I thought it was based off astronomy.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • JoeyRoo

      The calendar is NOT based on religion – it is based on astronomy. Astronomy itself is the basis for religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • For crying out loud...

      Indeed! Shouldn't they be fighting to have the friezes depicting scenes from Greco-Roman mythology removed from all federal buildings? Shouldn't they be lobbying for new names of the days of the week, rather than those named after Anlgo-Saxon and Norse gods?
      Culture gives life meaning. Religion and culture are inseparable. I'm not advocating any particular belief; that's just the way it is. When I was in Malaysia and the Muslim Call to Prayer would be broadcast over loudspeakers from all government buildings, I wasn't upset that a Muslim nation was trying to 'cram Islam down my throat.' Instead, I recognized that I was in a nation whose culture was highly influenced by Islam, and it in no way challenged my beliefs, I just stood in silent respect for the nation, its people, and its culture and then went about my business.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • realitypolice

      What does how things are done in Malaysia have to do with how things are done in the United States?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Instead, I recognized that I was in a nation whose culture was highly influenced by Islam, and it in no way challenged my beliefs, I just stood in silent respect for the nation, its people, and its culture and then went about my business'

      except the US has no official religion so there is no comparison.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • realitypolice

      The calendar was not created nor is it enforced by US Government. The Government follows the calendar, which as was correctly pointed out by another poster, is primarily based upon astrology.

      As for BC/AC- that is not even technically religious. Christ is a historical figure, not just a Christian one. Even most Atheists believe there was a man walking around 2000+ years ago claiming to be the son of god. Doesn't mean he was, any more than Jim Jones was.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  12. realitypolice

    As an atheist, this actually doesn't bother me. Heaven, while certainly derived from Christian meaning, has evolved into a term used commonly to describe earthly conditions of bliss or happiness. I often say "oh, God" when I am surprised or frustrated, but I am certainly not praying.

    As a Libertarian, however, I do have reservations about it. This is not a "freedom of speech" issue, as some posters have claimed- the First Amendment was hardly designed to protect the right of the government to force speech that otherwise violates citizens rights down their throats. This is a government created and owned signed espousing a religious theme- it would seem to be a clear violation of separation of church and state. If private citizens want to put up signs saying the same thing in the windows of their apartments, on their stoops, or in their yards if they have one, that would absolutely be protected speech.

    But once taxpayer money gets involved- all liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights must be honored and protected.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • AverageJoe

      Where in the Bill of Rights does it say government should never use the word Heaven? Or say a prayer? Or have a moment of silence? Where? Please cite the passage.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • asdf

      /\
      "Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion" – U.S. Const. Amend. I

      For the sake of brevity, take my word for it that the 14th Amendment makes this apply to the state governments.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • realitypolice

      Please tell me you're joking, averagejoe & thank you ASDF

      July 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  13. tumadreenmispantelones

    I'm all for freedom of religion and atheism, but I feel this is one that they could have left alone. With this, and the messages they choose for Independence Day, it feels like they're being very counter-productive towards they're cause. All they're doing is provoking negative responses from people, even some of those siding with them.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • tumadreenmispantelones

      *their cause. Typo.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • asdf

      I agree w/ you. As an atheist, it bothers me when other atheists take up causes like this. Not only does it give credence to the silly idea of a "militant atheist", it really just makes us out to be crybabies. Not to mention attacking something dedicated to dead 9/11 first responders.

      Atheists deal with real issues every day of religion in government, important ones that affect our lives in substantial ways. These causes are worth fighting for because they affect our liberties. Those are the causes that we should really be taking up, not changing a pseudonymous street sign that is a comforting tribute to 9/11 first responders.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  14. masshacks

    These groups have nothing else better to do than to complain. Just like when firehouses put up christmas lights. These people suck. Get a life

    July 7, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  15. the real john

    Liquor sotres all over america are not allowed to sell 'spirits' anymore, according to the national athiest movement.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Peter

      Another baseless comment, though what might you expect from people who believe in fairy tales?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  16. ROCKWOOD

    Ugh.....some people with too much time on their hands......

    July 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  17. James

    The French Quarter has streets named after Catholic saints. January is named after the God Janus. Many planets are named after Roman Gods. But if someone wants to name a street Ba'al Blvd or Odin Way, are these guys going to throw a fit? Shut up and learn to control your hatred of Christianity. You're bringing the average intelligence of us atheists way down.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  18. To be Fair

    I definitely see no problem with this because the firefighters would be Christian, not the public street.

    I wonder how many protests there would be if a couple of the firefighters were Muslim and the sign said "Two with Allah?"
    Oh man, can you imagine what would happen there?! Hmm.. the atheists might have a point. Personally I wouldn't mind either sign.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      if the sign said 2 with allah you would go deaf from the shrieking from the same people currently defending this sign

      July 7, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • scott

      Your argument is too rational for some christians to comprehend.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Marky Merlot

      As an atheist, I see no problem with the sign even if some of the firefighters were not religious. I'm willing to accept that the sponsors of the sign had only honourable intentions. I do take umbrage at "...the firefighters would be Christian" which assumes, only godly people can perform public service.
      Anyway atheists have a difficult time in America as it is (often hiding the fact) and publicity like this does them no service at all.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • To be Fair

      Oh no Marky, I am just assuming these particular seven firefighters were Christian.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  19. James B. Guinn

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

    - The First Amendment

    Atheist just can not comprehend the first amendment. It was meant to keep the government from dictacting what form of religion we would be, thus the first part of the first amendment, and then they wanted to protect not restrict the free exercise of any religion chosen. I guarantee you that sign is not a law dictacting any type of religion on anyone, and therefore is protected by the very law they are using to get it taken down. We need to wake up and think about what we are doing in our court systems today. This is ridiculous, and I can think of far better things for our tax money to be used on then to have these court proceedings for something that is clearly protected under law. Any lawsuit brought against the city should be thrown out on lack of merit.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Davey Jones

      I agree, if only our "impartial" judges did too...

      July 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • John C.

      The first amendment protects religion... as long as it doesn't offend christians. God forbid someone attempted to make a mosque near ground zero...

      July 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • PCT

      Thank you!!!! Read it carefully, people! the LEft has totally turned the amendment's purpose and meaning on its head... to the point that THEY are PROHIBITING any practice of religion outside the home, church, temple, mosque.... Why should government employees be prohibited from displaying Christmas lights or a menorah? They are still INDIVIDUALS who have rights. The concept of INDIVIDUAL LIBERTIES is slowly being eroded in this country

      July 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Mike Reid

      You obviously don't understand that the 1st Amendment protects a private citizen's right to free exercise of religion AND prevents the establishment of religion. "Establishment" means far more than what you claim under centuries of Supreme Court Jurisprudence. State action must have a SECULAR, legislative purpose, must not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and the government cannot become entangled with relgion.

      I think there is a good case to be made that when the state posts a message like this in public, it runs afoul of the Establishment Clause.

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

      Thomas Jefferson wrote, "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

      I don't care about the sign personally, but our founding fathers were trying to keep religion out of the government and for good reason if you look at the history of religion in the world.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  20. WestboroBaptistChurch

    I sure am glad there are no Christian groups out there that make all Christians look bad.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • P Man

      Oh now thats funny.... good job.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Libra Lisa

      Bravo!!!! Excellant point.....

      July 7, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • the real john

      a religious nut makes wild claims and atheists EVERYWHERE come down on ALL religions. now some athiest nutjob does the same you feel ashamed because he doesnt represent you. now you know how it feels. next time westboro pickets a funeral, think twice before you go laughing at believers. taste of your own medicine scks.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:59 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.