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. well

    Evengelical Athiests are the most pathetic creatures ever to evolve.
    One, through rational thought, the best one can achieve is agnosticism. There are some interesting scientific findings coming out of modern cosmology that while not evidence for a creator, certainly leave plenty of room at the table for one.
    Two, by being ovebearing busy bodies, trying to force others to bow to their beliefs, they display the same behaviors that they rail against theists for.
    Three, while there is zero evidence for or against a God or gods, a religious person admits their belief to be grounded in faith, while the atheist claims to be going solely on reason. (see point one)

    July 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      since when does faith have the same footing as reason?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • well

      Atheists claim to use reason to arrive at a conclusion that there is no God. It may be hard to understand for you, but there being zero evidence against the existence of God, reason can only bring you to agnostic. Don't know one way or another. Tell me, do you know that string theory is false? There is zero evidence for it, and yet reason says it may be correct.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • wakeup333

      @ well.

      It's not the atheist's job to prove god doesn't exist. It's the believer's job to prove he/she/it does. So far, no proof. End of story.

      I don't know any atheist who'd insist on atheism after being shown a photograph of god. Take one. Post it here.

      Until then, atheists live in the world they know. The only one that can be proven. It just so happens, in this provable world, invisible beings don't exist.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  2. Laurel

    This has been a great read. I would have been a better read if with all of the time taken here, some actual facts about the actual street sign event had been included and then debated. It was refreshing to see an actual intelligent conversation take place. (well, some posts) Lively...always good.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  3. JD

    Atheism is effectively taught in our public schools, but the mere use of the word "Heaven" isn't allowed? There are references to atheistic terms everywhere. These people can't comprehend their hypocrisy.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • IEK

      Evidence please...

      I was never once taught in school that there was no such thing as God. Or are you one of those people who are incapable of understanding the difference between Secularism and Atheism?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  4. GeorgeBos95

    The atheists are wrong – "Heaven" is not a Christian specific concept, nor is it a specifically religious concept.

    Get over yourself, kids.

    And no, I'm not religious.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Michael

      If you aren't religious like you say you are, then you are an Atheist, ergo you are the kid?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Steven

      I am religious and totally ok with people not jiving to my beliefs, but am sick and tired of those who cry, oppression turning around and trying to oppress another groups believes and heaven goes by many names in many different religions.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • IEK

      How can you possibly argue that the idea of a magical Paradise where you go when you die isn't a religious concept? And just because people use the term to mean anything very nice is irrelevant because all they're doing is making a hyperbolic statement comparing something they like to eternal paradise.

      @Steven – Oh how tolerant of you. You don't mind people having their own beliefs as long as they're ok with the government openly preferring what you believe?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  5. Katy

    Lack of religious faith=atheism=also a belief system.

    what now?

    July 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Laughing

      Belief system and religion are 2 different things.

      Nice try but no cigar, keep trying though, maybe one day you'll learn how to make those pesky atheists into a religion!

      July 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • wakeup333

      Katy, you need to get out into the world more and actually meet an atheist!

      Atheism simply means "no god." Period. Nothing more. Nothing less. It's not a "belief system." It's a lifestyle choice to believe only what can be proven. We say: faith is bad. Demand evidence! And I don't mean an adrenaline rush. I mean something that can be seen, touched or filmed (by anyone, not just believers).

      Apart from that, atheists enjoy the world they live in. Loving life, family and friends, rising above hardships, facing challenges. Making the most out of who they are and what they have.

      How different is that from people you know?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  6. sensitive bunch

    Atheism is a religion in and of itself. The belief in nothing. No Spirits, no heaven, no hell, no eternal life, no god, no devil. The only good they believe in is what helps a society. If Morals change, then so does good and evil. No true standard. Little Jackals trying to fleece the spirituality out of a good nation, and the devil laughs at them because they don't know that they are his tools.....and tools for disrespecting the fallen.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • wakeup333

      As a believer, you're like a turtle in a box. Alone in the box, the turtle thinks that all creatures have shells on their backs. He thinks the world is a barren desert, like the box. Little does he know, outside that box, are millions of creatures who walk on two legs, run on four, swim with none and fly with wings. And a world with infinite landscapes, most more interesting than that box.

      When atheists hear believers try to define us, we laugh. You don't have a clue. Ask. We'd be happy to tell you. Hint: We're nothing like you think.

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

    "That's nonsense,” said Anbriena Insausti, who lives in Manhattan. “The families should honor their loved ones anyway they want." Hey, Sweetie, it wasn't the family who put the sign up there it was the gov't and that is wrong.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • JD

      "Christian" is a common first name. What if a guy named "Christian" does something prominent? Can we name a street after him?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • IEK

      Yes. That is a completely and utterly stupid question.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "Christian" is a common first name. What if a guy named "Christian" does something prominent? Can we name a street after him?"
      Sure, you can put it next to 'Muhammad drive' , named of course after Muhammad Ali, and nothing to do with the founder of Islam, and thus perfectly acceptable as well right?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  8. Rick

    Really? This is a debate? What a bunch of whining, crying, selfish, ignorant individuals this country has become. If you’re an Atheist you shouldn't care, you don't believe in that anyway! This country will not get better until we quit pointing the finger at everything and anything we can find the slightest fault in. Spend more time making yourself a kinder, better, more giving person and less being bitter at anyone who isn't "exactly" the same as you. A lesson that should be used on all sides!

    July 7, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • OU812IC

      Well that will never happen
      Because the biggest whining, selfish, ignorant pointing the finger people, are the people who run this country and the church

      July 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Daws

      And gov't should spend it's time and money on stuff other than promoting religious beliefs. The possible reason atheists get upset about gov't abuses and injustices in the world is that there's no all powerful being that will rectify things afterdeath. You only get one chance to make things right and that's here and now. It's possible if we all believed that, we'd get off our butts more and make the world a better place.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • VegasRage

      Whining, crying, selfish, I can accept. Ignorant, well there is a matter of faith involved and all of us are ignorant until we make that final voyage.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • wakeup333

      Believers whine louder than atheists. If you can't rub our noses in your belief, you call it "persecution."

      There are over 48 million nonbelievers in America. More each day learn to love the world we're in, not some world we're not in.

      If you want to honor 7 brave 9-11 firefighters, call the street "Seven Heroes Way."

      Faith neutral. Got it? Doesn't insult you. Doesn't insult me. Honors the firefighters. If that's not win-win, what is?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  9. Eric

    Note that the atheists are not asking the sign to be changed to "Seven who aren't in Heaven because that's imaginary." The government should not be in the business of promoting belief or non-belief. It should remain neutral. If a Christian group wants to erect a "Seven in Heaven" sign on PRIVATE property I have absolutely no problem with that.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Steven

      ok solve it this way, put it up to a vote and see who wants the sign to come down. Democracy at its best!

      July 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • JD

      The use of the word doesn't imply anything Christian.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'JD – The use of the word doesn't imply anything Christian.'
      oh come on, we all know the context this word was used in, lets not try to claim otherwise.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  10. Riche


    The well timed Adjustment Bureau had it all wrong HU. Free will and Destiny are not opposite forces. The free will behind every direction each performer may take was know before the first page of history was ever written and the stage was set accordingly so we get the performance we deserve.

    You know how the most extraordinary design behind the reality right in front of you materializes out of no where especially when people act from a core of dignity and courage, right HU?

    I also mentioned there was something that would basically validate this in the form of how this whole event was triggered indirectly from the ashes of our most tragic moment.

    I really do not know what my legal obligations are HU and feel I have the right to talk about anything I want, especially since I can not have a lawyer, but usually when the President's child like and perverted behavior on live TV tries to illicit a response I take it as a clue, but that was before this FOOL made a FOOL of himself again and let the most extraordinary power set the itinerary for the entire day for him to witness just a glimpse of what it is capable of, basically further validating what I already thought was validated.

    You know what I speak of HU but how soon denail kicks in.

    Well, I have come to appreciate this power HU, and despite the rather positive effects of my story, at the end of the day I have absolute faith that I will have a better destiny if I never use it like a pig or FOOL especially since I do not know what my FOOL is fishing for but believe me HU, you would not believe it and I feel I have created enough of a fail safe for hopefully a future generation to piece it together and benefit from it.

    In the mean time HU, wish me luck trying to find true love cause what goes around comes around...

    July 7, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  11. Darrel Texas

    I think the Atheists have a point, but I think the street should stay as long as the Atheists can have a street named "There is no Jesus" Avenue. I bet t.he holly rollers would have a fit

    July 7, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Eric

      Christianity and atheism aren't the only things that exist. You'd could rename every street corning in NYC with references to current and past religions, including the flying spaghetti monster.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Aaliyah

      They would have a fit... but Jesus is universally accepted as a historical figure so that sign would never go up.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Steven

      How about instead of singling out Jesus, give them "There is nothing after death" street.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  12. W. MArtin

    Hi last statement that he made is very wrong

    “We’ll die for the right to believe,” he continued. “Just don’t shove it down our throat.”.... is he not trying to shove it down our throats about him not believing...he is try to make us make the sign to his liking... basically he is say "Only what I and my fellow non believers feel is important... don't offend us but we can offend you!

    What he should do is just not look at the sign... what he should do is allow other to express their feelings and not be attacked by his personal demands just because he does not believe.

    To bad his self involved thoughts have to be a problem for others... remember the FREEDOM of this country if for everybody!!

    July 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • IEK

      The problem is it's a city sign. It was put up by the local government, that's the problem. Just like if the city named a street "There is No God Street", I would full expect the same reaction from religious folks. And they would be right. People can believe and remember their loved ones however they want. Sell shirts or bumperstickers with "Seven in Heaven" all over them. The problem is the source, not the message.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Daws

      How about, don't use my tax dollars to promote your religion?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • A Christian

      Well said, W.Martin. It all comes down to accepting and respecting the beliefs and rights of others.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • A Christian

      Well said, W.Martin.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  13. Steven

    You don't want to believe in gods, beings anything, thats your business, the MAJORITY ie. democratic mass ARE religious and don't mind the sign im sure.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Forealms

      I can't remember who said it, but I will refer you to this saying:

      "Democracy should be more than two lions and an antelope deciding what to have for dinner."

      July 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  14. OU812IC

    If any of you truly believe there is such a thing as Seperation of church and state. You are all nuts. Gee just look at the Presidents Inauguration. Preachers reading from the bible and then off to the church for a big celebration.
    The church wants seperation when it benefits and they profit, they don't know the word when it goes the other way

    July 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  15. Ralph T

    Are they kidding? The sign doesn't advocate one religion over another, which was the intent of separation of church & state. These people need to familiarize themselves with the writings of the Founding Fathers a little more so they can see the intent behind the law.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Daws

      I think the spirit of that separation extends to religious beliefs as well. The gov't shouldn't be working to influence it's citizens, it's citizens should be working to influence the gov't.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • george busch

      The indieans (the original founders of our country), who we slew by the hundreds of thousands, did not have a heaven in thier beliefs. So they are not represented. Nor does it represent hundreds of other religions around the world. It only caters to Christians, Muslims and Jews. So it does show favoritism.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  16. Huh?

    I can not wait until God lays the smack down on ALL you ignoramuses who love to blaspheme what you are blind to...."I can't see it so it must not exist" ?? lol bunch of deaf and blind non-believers who can't see and hear what is SCREAMING at you from EVERY DIRECTION.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • OU812IC

      How many times were you lead into the back room behind the alter and told to drop your little knickers and bend over
      I would say quite a few

      July 7, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Huh?

      Here's another baby who can't face the truth of what he/she doesn't believe...don't worry I have FAITH you will wake up one day

      July 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Laurel

      Funny, I don't think I've heard of any reports of athists returning from the dead, but there was one Christian........

      July 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Daws

      Sounds like such a loving and forgiving god.... and that "screaming from all directions" tends to be religious zealots not reasons >.<

      July 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  17. Rick

    Me thinks they protest too much.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  18. Steven

    too hell with bible thumpers and stupid overbearing atheists who can go jump off a bridge.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  19. Chris

    How is this shoving anything down there throats? Clearly these people are clearly butthurt over any public reference to religion at all. Plus this isn't the state sponsoring any religion. Plus heaven isn't just a Christian idea but in many religions.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Bates

      Right on. Heaven is an idea more then anything. Hell my Heaven is sitting in my yard with an ice cold Yuengling and some Black Sabbath playing in the background. These Atheists need to find something better to do.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • IEK

      The sign was put up by the local government, so yes, the problem is Government professing a religious belief (that people go to Heaven when dead). Whether it's Christian Heaven or not is irrelevant.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  20. Sean

    How is it that there's a vast, engaged and growing atheist body out there, with hit books, brilliant arguments and great personalities like Hitchens and Harris, and this odd case of overreach is the kind of "atheism" that gets reported every week on CNN? If CNN to single out the dumbest and most over-zealous actions of Christians and then make headlines out of them, I'm sure the point would be self-evident.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Dante

      Dang, good post!

      July 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Ralph T

      I have yet to see a brilliant atheist.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • JD

      CNN does exactly that to Christians, so the point IS evident – atheism shouldn't get a pass.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Eric

      "I have yet to see a brilliant atheist." - Statistically, the more educated and enlightened your are, the more likely you are to be an atheists. That's just simple statistics, and can be easily be verified on-line. Conversely, the less educated you are, the more likely you are to be a believer. That doesn't mean there aren't brilliant believers and stupid atheists. Here is a short list of brilliant (gnostic and agnostic) atheists: George Carlin, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Hawking, Brian Eno, Steve Wozniak, Douglas Adams, Mark Zuckerber and Warren Buffet.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Skeptical Analysis

      @Ralph T – Take your pick

      Democritus – ancient Greek philosopher and "father of modern science"

      Diagoras of Melos – poet and sophist

      Epicurus – ancient Greek philosopher

      Theodorus the Atheist – ancient Greek philosopher

      Andrew Carnegie – American industrialist, businessman and philanthropist whose the second richest man in history

      Ivan Pavlov – Russian physiologist, psychologist and physician who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1904 for research on the digestive system

      Sigmund Freud – Austrian psychiatrist who founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology

      Clarence Darrow – American lawyer who was the defense of Tennessee teacher John Scopes in the "Monkey Trial"

      Richard Strauss – German composer who began writing music at the age of six and continued almost until his death

      Bertrand Russell – British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, pacifist and social activist

      Jawaharlal Nehru – follower of Mahatma Gandhi and ledaer of the Indian National Congress

      Linus Pauling – chemists who wrote the Millennium Essay in the journal Nature, one of the greatest thinkers and visionaries of the last thousand years.

      Paul Dirac – British theoretical physicist who contributed to the early development of quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics

      Ayn Rand – Russian-born American writer of "Atlas Shrugged"

      Katherine Hepburn – actress who received 12 Academy Award nominations for Best Actress in a film

      Jacques Monod – French biologist who contributed greatly to the understanding of the Lac operon as a regulator of gene transcription in cells, suggested the existence of mRNA molecules in the process of protein synthesis, and further contributed to the field of enzymology

      Subrahmanyan Chandresekhar – Nobel Prize in Physics and has a space-based X-ray observatory named after him

      Alan Turing – English mathematician, logician, computer scientist and cryptanalyst

      Francis Crick – co-discoverer of the structure of DNA

      Claude Shannon – electronic engineer and mathematician known as "the father of information theory.

      Richard Feynman – development of quantum mechanics

      Noam Chomsky – American philosopher

      James D. Watson – Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine in 1962 as co-discoverer along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins of the molecular structure of DNA

      Peter Higgs – theoretical physicist and emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland

      Warren Buffet – American businessman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and the richest person in the world in the first half of 2008

      John Searle – American philosopher and spokesperson for the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley during the late 1960s and early '70s

      Steven Weinberg – American physicist best known for his work on unification of electromagnetism and the weak force, for which he shared the Nobel Prize in physics

      Carl Sagan – American astronomer, astrochemist, and successful popularizer of science

      David Suzuki – Canadian zoologist, geneticist, science broadcaster and entironmental activist

      George Carlin – comedian

      Bruce Lee – American born Chinese martial artist, philosopher, instructor and actor, the founder of the Jeet Kune Do combat form

      Leonard Susskind – American physicist specializing in string theory and quantum field theory

      Stephen Jay Gould – paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and historian of science

      Richard Dawkins – scientist and writer with radical discoveries in biology and popular science books

      Daniel Dennett – American philosopher and spy for the OSS

      Stephen Hawking – Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge

      Mick Jagger – rocker from Rolling Stones

      Richard Leakey – conservationist, a promoter of civil rights and a supporter of the Kenyan Safina Party

      David Gilmour – rocker from Pink Floyd

      Brian Eno – English musician, composer, record producer, music theorist and singer best known as the father of ambient music

      David Sloan Wilson – SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University in New York, a prolific popular science writer, and a promoter of evolution by group and multi-level selection

      Steve Wozniak – Apple founder and computer engineer

      Douglas Adams – English writer, dramatist and musician, best known for his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series

      Steven Pinker – experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist best known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind

      PZ Myers – evolutionary developmental biologist and professor of biology at the University of Minnesota

      Jodie Foster – Actress who has won three Bafta Awards, two Golden Globes, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a People's Choice Award, and two Emmy nominations

      Russell T Davies – Welsh writer and producer of the modern version of the popular science fiction television series Doctor Who

      David Chalmers – Australian philosopher, director of the Center for Consciousness and past director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona

      Sean Carroll – theoretical cosmologist specializing in general relativity and dark energy

      Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook founder and computer programmer

      Ray Kurzweil – Inventor of text to speech synthesizer, best selling author, and made famous The Law of Accelerating Returns

      July 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Daws

      Ugh, do we have to recognize Ayn Rand in the ranks? >.<

      July 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
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About this blog

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.