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. Wesley B

    As a agnostic atheist, and a fairly vocal one, this is stupid and makes atheists look bad. This is not the fight to fight–it is an honorary street name and one designed to honor these men in a way they would like to have been honored. This is like saying we shouldn't put crosses or stars of David on tombstones in federally owned and maintained cemeteries. There ARE religious issues to be fought over in this country, but this is not one of them (and let's face it–it only does more PR harm than the value of any win would be worth).

    July 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • SarSar

      Very well said, sir!

      July 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Aaliyah

      Well Stated. Thanks for your comment.

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

      Unfortunately probably true... after awhile though the double-standard gets tiring...

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

      You do understand that you can't be an agnostic atheist, right? Words do actually have meanings. I might call myself a Christian Hindu and it would make as much sense.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Wesley B

      @ well

      You've been misinformed. You most certainly CAN be an agnostic atheist because the two words speak to entirely different propositions—a fact that can easily be seen with a basic understanding of the words themselves and how they are built linguistically.

      The word atheism is comprised of two parts.
      The root, theism, deals with spiritual BELIEF. Theists BELIEVE that there are one or more gods. The prefix, a-, means "not" or "lacking" and thus an "a-theist" is "NOT a theist" or, in other words, one who lacks a BELIEF in a god.

      The word agnosticism is also comprised of two parts.
      The root, gnosticism, deals with spiritual KNOWLEDGE. Gnostics possess (or truly feel that they possess) actual knowledge of god. The word "a-gnostic" has the same "not" or "lacking" prefix and means that one does NOT profess actual KNOWLEDGE about whether or not god exists.

      The term theist/atheist deals with whether or not one BELIEVES that there is a God.

      The term gnostic/agnostic deals with whether or not one professes to KNOW that there is a God.

      The two are clearly different just by their construction and root word origins.

      Granted, some people debate what it is to know anything about god at all, but then you get into a lot of hair-splitting about what it means to truly "know" something. For colloquial purposes and general use of the words, I think an honestly professed assumption of actual belief is what matters.

      The definitions allow us to combine the terms to create more subtle divisions of ideas, which makes understanding who one is talking to easier and more accurate.

      Because the terms are different, the result is that one can be:

      * An agnostic atheist
      (one who doesn't claim to know if there is a God or not, but doesn't believe in one)
      * A gnostic atheist
      (one who does not believe in god AND professes to know that no such god does or could exist)
      * An agnostic theist
      (one who doesn't claim to know if there is a god or not, but does believe in one)
      * A gnostic theist
      (one who both claims to believe in AND know for a fact that there is a god)

      The two words deal with different—albethey closely related—aspects of spirituality, understanding, awareness, and information: the profession of belief and the profession of actual knowledge.

      I am an agnostic atheist because while I do not believe in a god, I do not claim actual knowledge that one does not exist. This position is also known as weak atheism, negative atheism, implicit atheism, or soft atheism. (Gnostic atheists are likewise known as strong, positive, explicit, or hard atheists.)

      July 7, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  2. Huh?

    Praise God, Praise Jesus, Praise the Holy Spirit, and Glory be to GOD the Creator of the Universe. Forever and Ever...Amen.

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

    All I can say is "good grief, don't you have anything better to do"!

    July 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  4. BR

    If all the faithful and supposedly faithful-friendly atheists here are so accepting of the sign, take up a collection and pay for it yourselves.

    Wait...you already did...with taxes.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  5. Rich

    Religion is delusion

    July 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Huh?

      You're right, but God's grace in the Son is FREEDOM and LIFE.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  6. Food4Thought

    This groups next tasks are to get the government to rename St. Paul, St Petersburg, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St Louis, San Antonio, San Jose, Santa Maria, San Diego, and Santa Fe. Clearly, the mere existence of these cities is shoving faith down our throats. I, for one, will not have it.

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

      I think this is so stupid. I mean it's a street sign. Come on. The Street has another name. I like the person who said if they change stuff like that they should change cities like Los Angeles. There are other things to gripe about people. Get a life.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  7. RodRoderick

    the law states "freedom OF religion", not freedom FROM religion". I hate the color of your hair – should I be able to have you banned from pubic?

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

      Your argument is juvenile. Freedom of Religion means that all citizens are guaranteed the right to practice the religion of their choosing. Likewise, all citizens are given the right to practice no religion. If the government allows symbols of Christianity to be constructed on public property, or state property, it must also allow every other form of religion to be displayed on such property. To avoid this snowball effect, it makes more since for the government to show no favoritism by allowing no religious symbols or references to be placed on public/state property. This creates the ultimate freedom of religion as no organization can claim governmental discrimination.

      However, in this specific case, heaven could be argued as a term to denote the post-life state, whether that be the version portrayed by Christianity or by Islam or any other religion. Frankly, heaven is so often used to refer to a state of bliss, that it has almost lost its religious significance on its own accord. The word "heaven" in and of itself I think has little religious semblance in modern society. However, I can see the opposing argument and it has as much or more merit as well; at this point it becomes a matter of opinion.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'I hate the color of your hair – should I be able to have you banned from pubic?'
      should the goverment be allowed to put up signs saying blonde hair is the best hair color?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  8. fred

    Jesus said “this wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!” Well here it is for all those on this site that say God is a myth, he just gave you a sign, what more do you want. You have your sign whether you are a Christian or an atheist you have your sign. Whether you are a Christian or an atheist the sign reveals who you are. Just read the posts on this site. You dig through the bible till you find just the verse needed to justify what goes on in their dark corner of your life. Even those who totally discredit the bible use it for the same reason. Well Jesus would not give them a miraculous sign because they did not believe what was already given and shown to them. They all held onto their existing notions and nothing would change their minds. Just like the two camps on this web site. It got nasty so they all got together mocked Jesus beat him and hung him. Then most crawled back into the darkness they were in before the true light revealed their hearts.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      hey fred.......here's your sign.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  9. Hypocrite Hunter

    There are people named Christian and they might have streets named for them. Where I live there is a Science Drive...should churches protest that? No, people who go to church know science and have no problem with it. This is just more hypocritical atheism which professes to know for a fact there is no god, yet demean the religious for living like there might be one.

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

      San Francisco, Saint Luis, San Bernadino, San Mateo, Saint Thomas etc...... They all need to go.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • BR

      Most atheists don't make any such positive claim as, "there is no god". It is every bit as unsupportable as those of faith. Typically we just say, prove it...out in the open, for all to see and anyone to experience and verify...not internally...no sequesterd mountaintops...just a simple supportable claim...just one will do. Besides, it's all irrelevant to the article.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • well

      BR, you simply don't understand that words have meanings. You are agnostic.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  10. Edmond

    Heaven- The expanse of space that seems to be over the earth like a dome.
    Heaven- A place or condition of utmost happiness.
    Besides these two meanings of Heaven and the others referencing God. The atheists are blowing there wind in the wrong direction. It appears to me that atheists are not for any happiness, just trouble .

    July 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      we all know they meant christian heaven in this sign, lets not try to convince ourselves this meant something different.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  11. queuebert

    Many people trash the atheists as insensitive and disrespecting those who lost their lives (which they clearly state is not the case). But would Christians sit silently if the sign instead made reference to the firemen having been reincarnated, or some other religious belief? Or is it okay because it's your religion? This is why there shouldn't be public symbolism of religion – it only represents one point of view, but the government should represent all of the law-abiding citizens. Possibly even some of the victims that are being honored would oppose this sign, as it might be in direct opposition to their own beliefs.

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

      If any of their survivors have a problem, it is their business. Not yours.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • ksmith

      Oh no, I believe that atheist's are way too sensitive!!!

      July 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • queuebert

      Good job focusing on the one-liner tangent thought instead of the content of my post.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • ksmith

      Okay then think about it this way. What if these seven firemen were all Christians??? Don't ya think they would want this (especially since they are in Heaven now). To honor the fallen we shouldn't we honor their interests?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  12. PotRoast


    July 7, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • ....

      don't bother viewing this garbage, click the report abuse link to get rid of it.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • BR

      And of course Craig doesn't actually list the specific items that supposedly prove his point. Typical Craig & Plantinga...describe how a cognative faculty which is survival conducive can be drived from a false base concept.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  13. Wendy Burger

    Really? I used to live on "Temple Street." Should I protest that too? Don't people know that Atheists belong to their own religion as well. The belief of not believing and expecting everyone to do the same! When I see this sign, I do not feel as though I should be Christian or that religion is being shoved down my throat. It does not offend me at all. Some people are just so bitter and angry and have nothing else better to do!

    July 7, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  14. JD

    Nirvana, Olympus, Valhalla – all are names of streets in various places. Where are the lawsuits from these people?

    July 7, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • well

      Guess we need to rename the Olympics! They did after all start as a religious festival.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  15. Ed

    Why are atheists so quick to shove their "non" belief down everyone else's throat with billboards, radio and tv ads, print ads, etc....but they cry foul at the mention of the word "heaven" which can be interpreted in so many different ways by many different people. It's so one-sided and immature.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  16. Frank

    christians were all bent out of shape when 'under god' is removed from the revised 'pledge of allegiance' on national tv, so why shouldn't atheist also be offended at this.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Wendy Burger

      Because our FOUNDING FATHERS created those words and it's ignorant people that request such ridiculous acts of hate that are so offensive. This country was founded under Christian/jewish beliefs. If you don't like it, leave the country!

      July 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Laughing


      It's funny you speak of ignorance and then say the pledge of allegiance was written by the founding fathers, you do realize the "under god" was added in 1950 right?

      No? cool ignorance is alive and well for you bible thumpers

      July 7, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • brichard

      Correction: The revision to the Pledge of Allegiance was ADDING "under God," not removing it. Those words did not exist in the pledge when it was written in 1892. It wasn't until 1954 (long after the death of the Pledge's author, Francis Bellamy died) that the pledged was revised with the addition of those words.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • sumguy

      Wendy, "under god" wasn't added till the 50's

      July 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • brichard

      Wendy, you're a complete ignoramus. The Pledge of Allegiance was NOT written by our founding fathers. LOL! It was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892. Our founding fathers were all dead by then! Moreover, when it was written, it did NOT include the words "under God." Those words were not added until 1954. And the author of the pledge was also dead by then.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  17. MNresident

    The article states," Bronstein calls the sign a violation of the separation of church and state, arguing that the word “heaven” is a clear reference to Christianity."
    Other religions besides Christianity believe in a heaven. Judaism and Islam are just two examples. Why is the word "heaven" a reference to Christianity specifically?

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

      Good thought, but atheists don't believe in ANY heaven or ANY God, so religion doesn't matter

      July 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  18. Michael_of_Nebadon

    Science and Theology are combined intelligently in "The Urantia Book." Recommended reading for "atheists."

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

      If I want science combined with magic, I will combine it with Harry Potter. You magic believers always make for a good laugh.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  19. Reality

    Getting down to the "nitty-gritty" of heaven belief:

    "John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

    The Situation Today
    Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed." J. Somerville

    It is very disturbing that such religious violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Huh?

      Dear UN-Reality

      Please STFU with your wikipedia bullshhh

      July 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      doesnt make it any less true 'huh?'

      July 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  20. buddget

    As an atheist, I think this group is out of line and give Atheism a bad name. The sign is OK with me.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
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