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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. Doledart

    Pathetic, absolutely pathetic. I'm an atheist, and I want to smack this guy in the head. Who gives a flying F what they put up? "I'm offended by the word Heaven"...well trust me, I have a few choice words for you that you'd be much more offended by. To all you atheist out there who are so easily offended by such trivial things, let it go...really.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • wgage

      Woops. Hit the wrong button.
      I care what is put up. Next the muslims will want to wave their rediculous religion in our face.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  2. YoureKillingMeSmalls

    Geez... Atheism is soooo last year and just flat out boring to boot. Without "religion", Athiests would have nothing to do other than sit on their left (or right) thumb.. whilst the digit is pointed upwards of course. Everyone is closed minded... lets just agree on that.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • wgage

      I care what is put up. Next the muslims will want to wave their rediculous religion in our face.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  3. Huh?

    Need proof? You are alive.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Vandalay Industries

      I'm alive... so some magic dude must have waived his hand and made me. That is the only possible explanation?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Huh?

      The only possible one? No. The only real one? Yes. You did not come from monkies or aliens genius.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'The only possible one? No. The only real one? Yes. '
      lol, ok then

      July 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • wgage

      Huh, life is a chemical reaction, all the way to the core. No magic needed.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  4. Karrie

    Have they noticed the dollar bills they carry around? Give me a break, people. This is RIDICULOUS. You're OFFENDED? I'm so sorry you are offended. But at least you get to eat. And at least you have a roof over your head. And at least your children aren't disease ridden or waking up to the sounds of bombs going off in their backyard. What a joke... put your 'brilliance' into something productive for the world, not your damn feelings.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  5. sammy jones

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14YM7MP6HzY&w=640&h=390]

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

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

      July 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • nepawoods

      Thanks for posting that. The greatest pseudo-intellectual myth of our time is the notion that atheists are in general more intelligent, more intellectual, or more free thinking than those who believe in a God.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Matt

      Where has their lawsuit been over public places carrying the name "Hell's Kitchen"? That's obviously a religious reference. At minimum, there has been Hell's Kitchen Park there since 1966. The New York City Atheists only decide to challenge a public sign that uses the word " Heaven". Do they have a double standard or are they really just that ignorant of their own geography?
      Also, Heaven is a part of many ancient religions of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Mesoamerica and others,as well as moderns religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, several modern Chinese religions, Bahai, Jainism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Heaven is also often used as a concept of happiness. Judging the dead on their religious beliefs instead of the sign on what it alone says, who is the real religious bigot? Stay classy.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • BR

      @nepawoods – Actually, it's supported by a number of studies. But then what do all those elitist book-learnin yahoos know anyway?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  6. tom

    I believe in nothing therfore I am nothing.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  7. Huh?

    I know it may seem like the wicked prosper, but the LORD will be MAGNIFIED....mark these words.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  8. Herewe Goagain

    What a joke. First, heaven is not a clear reference to Christianity, as he claims.

    Second, he is sadly misinformed when he claims, "This is supposed to be a secular country. There is not supposed to be any religious symbols or signage in public spaces."

    July 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  9. Unknown

    I'm a non-believer and I think these people are dbags. I go by the principle by respecting believers if they respect me as a non-believer.

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

      I know! I am an atheist. You are just as bad as the extreme right, when you try to shove your views down people's throats like this– this is NOT the way to go about it!!!

      July 7, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • RD

      Same here.
      This is ridiculous.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  10. John

    Kyle, no one needs to prove to you that God exists. If we could prove that God exists, there would be no such thing as free will because you would be forced to believe. God revealed himself to his people and his message to humanity is in the Bible. The evidence is there, convincing enough to make you a believer, but not compelling enough to force you beyond your will.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Vandalay Industries

      How convenient

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

      Wait. First you state that god can not give evidence of his exists, but then the very next sentence you state that god revealed himself?

      Unreal...

      July 7, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • bostongraf

      (pardon me..."that he exists" not "of his exists"...carry on...)

      July 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Brooklyn Boy

      Evidence?
      You mean, something other than scripture, hearsay and wishfull thinking?
      Sorry – there is no evidence. That's why it's called "faith".

      July 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • well

      So are you as offended by government support of String Theory research? There is zero experimental evidence for string theory, yet my tax dollars support it, and lots of atheists seem to have know problem giving it respect.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  11. HelloAtheists TheDebateIsOver :)

    Haven't you heard? Atheism is dead.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCXvVcWFrGQ&w=640&h=390]

    July 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Andrew

      The ontological argument could likewise be used to support the loch ness monster. Sorry, it's woefully inadequate.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • TRH

      Better do a little more research, friend...and you can do better that this convoluted mess. The ranks of the non-believers are growing...start looking over your shoulder. The US is a secular republic....get used to it.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  12. k5150

    Why is it always the Christians that are picked on. If I'm not mistaken Muslims believe in heaven too or maybe they call it paradise. If so, I want all references to paradise banished from America!

    July 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • george busch

      Christians don't put on a bomb and knock on your door when you offend their religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  13. John

    Statistics can be manipulated to show anything. I've never seen statistics that say that atheists are smarter than believers. Atheists just choose not to believe and they like to pretend that they are more intelligent than believers. Who cares about a list of brilliant atheists? Dave Gilmour is one of my favorite artists. He's atheist. He doesn't believe in God. Guess what? He's wrong and he will have to answer to God one day. Just like everyone posting here. Remember that. Be very careful with what you say about God and the Bible. The Bible is the word of good and is not to be ridiculed, mocked, or distorted.

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

      We don't choose to not believe. Not believing is the default position when there is no evidence to support a reason to believe.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Chipperkeet

      Not totally disagreeing with you, but pretty much ALL religions claim their sacred texts are THE word of good. Yet Christians mock other texts all the time.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Andrew

      Well if you want the statistics, you could read the study "Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations", for a rather comprehensive discussion. There was also a gallop poll on "religiosity and intelligence" which you could look up. The trend is fairly consistent, more intelligent people tend to question more, and hence they are more likely not to believe in a god. That doesn't mean smart people can't believe in god, Ken Miller for example does (Though I disagree with his treatment of quantum uncertainty as pseudo-scientific junk), or that there aren't idiot atheists, but it does mean that, as a general rule, atheists are often smarter than theists.

      Further, religiosity also diminishes with education, those who have pursued higher and higher educations tend to be less religious than those who haven't. You could either say "I've never looked at the statistics" and pretend they don't exist, or you could, you know, look at them.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Kyle

      Ahhh here we go with the threats... We don't ebleong in your little club, and we don't think like you, so that means we deserve to be tortured forver. That is psychotic sociopathic. God will send us to hell according to your religion, you agree with everything your god is and does, therefore you beleive that people who dont think you you deserved to be tortured forever. Learn to get along with your fellow man and stop being such a dick.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Atheists just choose not to believe and they like to pretend that they are more intelligent than believers"""

      Normally I wouldn't argue this point, John, but you have to admit your religion isn't known for its promotion of higher learning. In fact, your mythology has a fundamental problem with intelligent people. Your god made us stupid and tried to keep us stupid. Your satan helped us get "knowledge" and ever since has been trying to get those of us who actually think and question into hell.

      So, wouldn't you agree that we're really wasting our breath when we try to reason with believers?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  14. GrogInOhio

    Meh... I think agnostics and atheists can find far more profound battles to fight than this one.

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

      Yes!

      July 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Bob Bichen

      You may be in error lumping agnostics and athiests together. I generally consider myself agnostic which means I don't practice religion, and am unsure if God exists or not. Devoted athiests are convinced that God, heaven, hell do not exist, which is why they take on these useless causes. Their level of collective arrogance (calling anyone who believes in a higher power or heaven/hell "fools" or "sheep") is no less irritating than those who are convinced that such things exist and that their version of the bible is the "truth and the only truth". Just as to the debate about gays in the military or gay marriage, if it isn't hurting you, then why is it any of your business. I personally take comfort in the possibility of a Heaven where my loved ones (including pets) go, even though I realize it may be a fantasy. It is a little white lie that is comforting and has little to no downside, as I am pragmatic about it.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Linda

      I agree, and I am an atheist. I don't want to be placed in the same group as these people....

      July 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Andrew

      Bob Bichen, I am not convinced unicorns don't exist, but I certainly will call anyone who believes in them a fool. I believe you misinterpret what the atheist claims. Atheism is lack of belief, not certainty in non-existence. You don't have to be certain something doesn't exist to believe it doesn't. I am not certain unicorns don't exist, nor am I certain gravity will operate tomorrow as it did today, however anyone claiming the contrary position is clearly on far less solid footing than the belief unicorns don't exist until proven otherwise. God, since it lacks evidence, is exactly the same.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  15. Umberto G.

    Really? Some people are planning on suing the city because of a street sign? Our country is facing some very serious issues, from leadership to debt celing to employment, the city is cutting services because of budget gaps and we worry about a street sign? Some people must have a lot of time on their hands.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  16. HERO

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZyQHFxDH74&w=640&h=360]

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

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGMuIyBK5P4&w=640&h=360]

      July 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • .....

      "don't bother viewing this garbage, click the report abuse link to get rid of these trolls

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

      Are you calling Antonio a troll? Because he responded to a video with a video? A video without profanity, tasteless content, or anything remotely objectionable, but which shows a so-called "expert" and his "proof" for the completely absurd, ignorant fallacy that it is?

      July 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  17. Kyle

    As an atheist, I can pretty much say that trying to remove this sign is ridiculous. Just for fun though, take at look at the last name of the president of the New York City Atheists, then try to think of why hes so intent on attacking Christianty.

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

      My last name is Bailey (Irish in derivation.) I am also atheist, and I am not comfortable with the sign either. I don't know whether I'd spend much time fighting it, but having a Jewish last name is NOT the influencing factor for Bronstein, I'm quite sure.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  18. Steven

    The biggest problem I have here is that people think separation of church and state is somehow breached here because of the term heaven. First off the majority of people in the city are religious and in all religions there is a heaven. So the majority of people in a DEMOCRACY will have no issue with this.
    The whole argument of church and state gets thrown out there every moment it seems, not to control church and state but to try and remove and get rid of anything church/religion related.

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

      @Steven-Sorry…basic civics at stake here. It makes no difference if the majority of the people in the city are religious. We are a republic, not a pure democracy. Majority rule thankfully has checks and balances because the masses don’t always get it right.

      The point is not to remove anything church/religion related, just to keep the government from using our tax dollars for it.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  19. scooby dooby

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsyhpZxKa3I&w=640&h=390]

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

      Atheism is not the assertion of anything, its the rejection of claim. Define your god to me, them prove to me that your god exists, otherwise I have no reason to believe.

      July 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Huh?

      Need proof? You are alive

      July 7, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • .....

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

      July 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Need proof? You are alive'

      which is simply proof that i am alive, nothing more.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  20. SarSar

    As an atheist, I think this guy is in the wrong. Even though I don't believe in heaven, I do appreciate the sense of peace that the idea of it offers. After my mother's death, I enjoy thinking that she is in heaven fishing with my papaw and grandpa and aunt. I think that sign should be left just the way it is. They deserve it.

    So, just so you all know, not all atheists are like this. 🙂

    July 7, 2011 at 4:33 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.