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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. Brandie

    So, if you want to sue the city cause the sign says "Heaven" on it, that means I could sue the city if it didn't have "Heaven" on it, right? Why do you think you have the right to have a word removed from something. If you don't like it, don't read it, don't go down that road. I'm a Christian and maybe the families of these fallen firefighters are Christian's too, and if that's the way they want their family members remembered, let it be. Why do atheists get so upset when something referring to God or Christianity is printed on something? The New Youk atheist group needs to get over theirselves and worry about more important stuff, like where you are spending eternity! God Bless!!

    July 7, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Carrey

      And if the sign said "Allah's way"? or "Zeus' way"? would you still feel the same?

      This is so obvious it's sad – if you travel around the world you will see hundreds of different religions – none make any sense.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • JoePub

      And if the sign said "Allah's way"? or "Zeus' way"? would you still feel the same?

      Sure, why not?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • KBinMN

      Carrey – I just decided that I am indeed offended by the names of the planets. I demand they all be changed.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  2. athiest

    You religious freaks actually believe some dude rose from the dead even though there's absolutely no proof to back this claim. You're bat crazy and your heaven and hell is fake. Might as well believe in Santa, at least he gives presents.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • find out more

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

      July 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • KBinMN

      Many of us also believe we all rose from the ashes of dead stars. Pretty crazy as well but true.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Susan Wilson

      What if you are wrong? What if your information is invalid?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Chad

      I will believe in Santa, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy as long as I get a gift of some sort. I wonder who you'll be looking to when you're about to die or pass. I've been confirmed and baptised but I don't go to church often, does that make me less of a Christian? No, it just means that I don't go often to church. Move on.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  3. Atheihuh?

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

    July 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • ....

      click the report abuse button to get rid of this troll

      July 7, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  4. G Nicholson

    "Oh for God's sake – how can you "protest" a street sign with a word on it?"

    Let's see then...Let's change it: "Seven now in the grace of Allah".

    What do you think of that?

    Or: "Seven now under the benevolence of L.Ron Hubbard"

    I like that one myself.

    Methinks you'd be protesting.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • WestboroBaptistChurch

      How about "look what happens when you let gays in the military way"?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Matt

      It all depends how you word it. It doesn't say" Seven in the bosom of Jesus". If they had all been Scientologists and the sign said " Seven freed from this world", it wouldn't be a problem. Many religions believe that. If they were all Muslims and it said "Seven in Paradise", it wouldn't be a problem either. Besides Muslims and Christians, Zoroastrians and some Hindus believe in Paradise, Celts and Greeks believed in it, The Urantia Book pushes it and the idea just means somewhere nice. General and specific words are very different.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  5. jesus

    i wonder what would happen if it was called atheist way?

    July 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • JoePub

      As a Christian I wouldn't have a problem with it.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  6. Chad

    I like the way we were years and years ago; not so opinionated. The old saying is spot on...Opinions are like , everybody has one and they all stink! Really folks, not many people care about a sign so move along. Signs are for getting direction and not for raise your own religious/political agenda.

    Yes I realize this is my "opinion" but I don't always put things up here however sometimes it's warranted.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  7. SDFrankie

    Way to go for the fat part of the curve, CNN. It's a never ending stream of populist chum. It's weird. Just the other day I was hearing someone claim that CNN was going to go for "serious news". But you can't resist an opportunity to stir up the two-digit IQ types can ya?

    July 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  8. KBinMN

    I suppose we should also remove Martin Luther King signs afterall he was a Baptist minister. And where do you think the middle name Luther came from????

    July 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • ummm...

      Those are historical figures... not references to mythical beings or places.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • KBinMN

      Come on now. Luther was the founder of the whole Protestant movement. That’s more then just a historical figure.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  9. 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 5:07 pm |
  10. CoffeeClue

    The sign seems harmless and with good intentions and personally I don't care if it's there. However, I do respect the Atheists for standing their ground. If they were there in the 50s, we wouldn't have such nonsense as "one nation under God" and "In God we trust". We need to make sure that the government officials think twice before shoving religion down our throats.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Kay

      I have to admit that the first thing I thought was..."what if it weren't 7 firefighters?" Would we have "6 in the sticks", "5 in the dive", 4 under the floor", "3 in a tree", "2 in the zoo", "one got undone"...or maybe "10 in the den", "9 in the pine"? Of course, we also might have gotten "8 know their fate".

      I'm not making fun of their loss. I am grateful for these firefighters' sacrifice...and for all the police and firefighters who put their lives on the line for us. But I honestly couldn't help thinking the way I did.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  11. KBinMN

    I live near St. Paul. Should I be offended?

    July 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • CoffeeClue

      Actually, yes. Having a city carry a religious name sends the message to visitors and new arrivals that current residents have a strong religious conviction and if that conviction is not shared by the outsiders, the outsiders are not welcome. That is how I felt when I moved to Minneapolis 30 years ago.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  12. CLM

    Please JESUS come back for us! come back for your church soon!

    July 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Carrey

      Zeus! Come back! We need you!

      Oh wait. We invented him too.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Scott

      Yes, please, come take them all away and leave the world a better place for the rest of us

      July 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • johnc

      Jesus never was and is not coming back. Think for yourself.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • yes

      I agree. I hope this all ends soon!

      July 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Ummm

      Don't you get it this is it, this is heaven and your not making it pleasant here.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • ummm...

      He's dead. Get over it.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  13. Alex Lifeson

    I agree. Religion is B.S.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • JK

      Atheism is nonsense.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Cody

      Yes, but you can't explain to a bunch of people who have been brainwashed that its all fiction created from other religions of that time. They aren't ready to hear it yet and see the truth.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  14. Andrew

    Lets say that there isn't a teapot outside orbiting jupiter, but people believe there is. Further, this belief causes them to try to pass silly laws, restrict the rights of other human beings to marry, and constantly attempts to inst-tute fundamentally anti-science beliefs into classrooms. "General Relativity doesn't exist says the teapot!" Then consider that this belief is given tax exempt status, and becomes one of the most powerful influences in the country, with none of the presidents ever declaring they don't believe in the teapot, and publicly declaring teapot belief is important to our national ident-ty and their personal growth.

    All of this for a thing which doesn't exist. You wouldn't care? I don't believe in god, but I'm sick of how much power religion holds on the country.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Sara

      This is one of the best things I've read in a while. It reminds me of Terry Pratchett's stories about the giant turtle in the sky.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      At what point does the person believing in my teapot permitted to express their belief?
      Can family members be permitted a memorial expressing their lost loved one's belief in my teapot?
      For, the ninth amendment states clearly that the rights of one my NOT disparage the rights of another.
      It's a street sign, not a vast statue of religious nature!
      That said. religion should NEVER be permitted a voice in government. Per the first amendment.
      As for the teapot, sorry. I dropped it when I was transferring into a departure orbit while I was setting up the foundations for my summer house in Europa...

      July 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  15. Don Scott

    It's time to just tell them to go to hell!

    July 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  16. G.

    Separation of Church and State? Really? Then how come it still says "In Good We Trust" in all bills/coins??? So a street sign is illegal but the Federal System isn't? Atheists should stop USING the BILLS then and start bartering for their food.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Andrew

      Because we were overly religious nuts in the late 1800s through to the 1950s?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Sara

      *LOL* I think you mean God, but remember that God was inserted in the pledge of allegiance in the 50s...it wasn't in the original pledge. Our country was founded on the separation of church and state, it's only in the last decades that it's creeped in more and more.

      Everyone go pick up a history book...

      July 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Or we could change the money, I'd vote for that. Someone introduce a bill.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      I do agree, the money should NOT have "In God we trust" on it. It should say, "In God we trust, all others pay cash."

      July 7, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Scott

      First we must stop new christian blight, then we will start removeing the old

      July 7, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • ummm...

      "In God we trust" wasn't on paper money until 1957. It first appeared on coins in 1864. While I'm at it... I'll go ahead and include "One nation, under God".... the under god wasn't added until 1954, even though the original pledge was written in 1892 and formally adopted as the nations pledge by Congress in 1942.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  17. Frank

    "Separation of church and state" has to do with the US not having an established church (i.e. a state church). Separation of church and state has nothing to do with barring any religious references in public spaces. A sign, which isn't even the "real" street sign anyway but an honorary one, that references Heaven doesn't create an established (state) church. While I am a religious person, I will defend to my last breath the right of atheists to not have a religion, but the folks complaining about this sign are really being ridiculous.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • well

      Also, the "seperation of Church and State" applies only to the Congress. Read the Bill of Rights some time. It says nothing about indevidual states. Have a nice day.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Sarah

      Frank – as an atheist I agree. Some people need to learn to pick their battles – this should not be one of them. I am 100% for a secular government but a memorial street sign? Come on. These people are making all atheists look like dbags.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Sara

      You would feel differently if that sign had an Islam slant to it, or a Satanic slant to it, yes? These are both "religions" too? Where does it end?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  18. JoePub

    Boo Hoo, street signs offend me... Grow a sack.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • ElohEl

      Boo hoo, other user's posts offend me. Grow a sack!

      July 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • kfl0wek

      ditto

      July 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Accuteknj

      To Sarah, Atheists are DIRT BAGS, if you can accept majority rules, why not go create your own Nation? I heard there is Real State being offered on the MOON now days....move on.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • G Nicholson

      Keep your hearsay religion out of the public forum. Put it on their tombstones, not on OUR signs. Let's change it to "seven under Satan" and let's see how small your sack gets. Grow a brain.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Scott

      Accuteknj: We did create our own nation. You will notice that the consti_tution does not mention “Christian”, “jesus” or “bible”. But we are willing to share it with other peaceful, law abiding, people no matter what strange things they personally believe.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  19. Nick

    These people can't possibly have jobs. How do they have the time to be so ridiculous?

    July 7, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  20. Aaron

    It is not only Christianity that believes in Heaven, but also Islam, Buddism, Hinduism, parts of Judaism, Confusianism, Baha'i, and many other smaller religions. Athiests need to stop being personally offended by everyone else's religion, especially Christianity. I guess what really matters is if the 7 firefighters (or maybe their families) believed in Heaven.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • BrewtownPsych

      You just don't get it - or don't want to. Many faiths do not believe in Heaven (including many Jews i know) as well as people who simply don't believe in it - duh! Don't spend tax money on religious messages, it's just that simply. Heaven is not a real thing, it is a religious belief.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • well

      Brewtown, do you get all whiney about string theory too? There is no evidence for that, yet we spend money researching it and teaching our high school kids about it.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • george busch

      You need to check your facts before you post. The path to enlightenment does not always lead thru heaven. A couple of these are not religions but beliefs. I would not be offended by your religion if you didn't keep throwing it in my face. Those people who know my beliefs can't help thowing references to god into conversations that have no reason to be there otehr than to try to get a response from me. I really don't want to hear it. If you don't bring it up I won't either. But if you do, you sanctomonious hyochrites, I will set you striaght.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Carrey

      Way more evidence for string theory than heaven. I'm a Ph.D. physicist.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • kfl0wek

      The sign refers to the kissing game and has nothing to do with religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      String theory is real, and God isn't. Even if string theory turns out to be wrong, disproving it will tell us what's correct. So it's important to know about it. Don't make me get out the Clown Hammer©.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • well

      Carry, you are either a liar or they hand PhDs out in cereal boxes. There is zero experimental evidence of string theory. Plenty of reasoned mathmatical theory, much as there are logical arguments for a creator arising from such realities as the balance of matter and anti matter, atomic masses and solar carbon cycle (I am sure you have read Hoyle).
      There zero factual evidence fro either.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • well

      Bible Clown you are just that. Please name one experiment that has given evidence for string theory. You say it is real? You believe in something without emperical evidence? Are you serious? You are as bad as a crrationist!

      July 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • BrewtownPsych

      Ugh @ well and people who actually believe that. Asking whether there experiements that are evidence for string theory is actually pretty easy if you ask the right questions. Many experiments have been performed testing the principles of string theory. Somebody stated that these are valid (if, some of the smartest minds among us by the way, feel that it is worthwhile given current available knowledge) to see whether the theory works, doesn't, shoudl be modified etc. Do you even know what science is? I think that is the problem with most of the religious types who just "believe" things on faith, they don't understand how rigorous real science is, peer-reviewed, testable theories. I mean really. Anyway, the point is a much simpler one: don't spend my money on religious messages! why is that so freakin' difficult already. man oh man.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • george busch

      While there is no proof at the moment of string theory, the math supports it and it is expected to be proven soon. What math is it that supports God?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • G Nicholson

      Typical Xtians, happy to push hearsay religion, but desirous of curtailing research. String theory is scientific/mathematical research. No one is putting it on street signs as though it's truth. It's like saying that you believe in electrons. It doesn't matter if they exist as we think of them, or not. The theory is useful in producing results. Let's see you produce tangible results with your 'god' theory. In all of the history of religion, no one has done it except through hearsay. It's always past-tense.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:41 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.