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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. Nick

    Its just a sign. its okay people.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Brian Paul

      No kidding! What on earth is wrong with people. This country is turning into such a bunch of whiny wimps. The people that are offended by this need to look at the 1000 upon thousand of white crosses in arlington national cemetery and realize the reason they have the right to be wimps is because the thousand laying under the white crosses allowed them to do so.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      Brian Paul, would you call people wimps if they were complaining about a street named "God Is A Lie" street or "Satan Almighty" road?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Coined

      @ Brian Paul – if we're not careful in choosing our politicians and knowing their policies that just might be the next atheist lawsuit. Can you imagine how offensive it is to them to have a national monument full of religious symbols?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      I bet you didn't "choose" Obama, and we see all the crosses he's ripping up left and right in Arlington, don't we?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  2. Coined

    Way to go Libtards. You idiots in NY (and CA for that matter) have made your beds and now get to lay in them. Keep trying to avoid offending anyone and everyone and you'll just keep getting lawsuits. I hope you enjoy spending your tax dollars in court trying to make every little thing OK for every little group.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Rick

      What has this got to do with "libtards"?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Nadine

      Mercy! Do they have indoor plumbing in the rock you're living under?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  3. Darren

    what idiots.....loosers

    July 7, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • an atheist

      *losers

      July 7, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      It's "losers", not "loosers". Loser.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  4. KBinMN

    The words Atheism and Atheist offend me as it implies a belief system I'm not comfortable with. Please refrain from using those words in public ever again. I demand it be so.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • wgage

      Atheism is not a belief system.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      If you're ok with "God Is A Lie" street, then they should be fine with "Seven In Heaven" way. You -are- OK with "God Is A Lie" street, right?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • A name

      Lemmie explain Atheism in terms you can understand: Religion:Having a ham sandwich::Atheism:Not having a ham sandwich. Atheism is the absence of religion, not a belief system itself.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  5. sane in FL

    why not just call it seven heros way. problem solved.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  6. mikel

    I didn't know that secularism = whiney crybabies. Thanx for the clarification

    July 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  7. WDW

    "We’re supposed to be a secular nation"
    Ummm, don't know what gave you that idea, but NO, you're WRONG! DEAD wrong. The pledge of allegiance states: one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
    It doesn't specify WHICH God, but I think it's pretty clear from our founding fathers exactly which one they meant for us to follow. I'm agnostic, but I still leave room in my world for religious symbols of my nation. You're not an atheist, sir, you're an IDIOT. One who wishes to force his own belief system on everyone else. You're no better than proselytizing Christians. And I mean that in the sincerest form of non-flattery. Why is it always "we vs. them" with you atheists? Don't you know that frivolous courtroom time costs our nation just as much as trials with serious consequences? Leave this issue alone, and you'll get a lot more respect for your position. I can't believe you're so stupid you'd cut off your own nose to spite your face! I mean really, it doesn't matter!!! Let the families who this simple street sign will help heal put up the stupid sign. Sit down, and SHUT UP!

    July 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • dan25ny

      You do realize that the pledge of allegiance didn't have the "under god" in it until 1954, right?

      July 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • wgage

      The author of the pledge, a baptist minister deliberately did not include "under god" because he recognized the importance of seperation of church and state.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Jay

      The pledge of allegiance was not written with the words "under god" in it. That phrase was added during tensions with the Soviet Union in an attempt to bolster the idea that "we" were god fearing capitalists, and the Russians were "atheist communists." It is a modern revision.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Michael

      You do realize our founding fathers died about a hundred years before the pledge of allegiance was written, and one hundred fifty years before "under God" was added to it, right? So explain again how we know which God the founding fathers meant for us to follow.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Kevin

      Only morons with no idea of the pledge site it as a source for this being a christian nation. that was added to the pledge in 1954. it was never in the original pledge.

      i agree this is petty stuff, but at least know your source.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      WDW, if you'll take the time to do your research, you'll find that the founding fathers unequivocally intended for America to be a secular republic.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • sec

      You do realize that the "under God" part of the pledge wasn't added until 1954, under President Eisenhower, because of the Cold War fear of "godless communists" at that time; plus, that the pledge was written in 1892. Therefore, it's not something the founding fathers included in any plans or intentions.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • JK

      Under God was only recently added to the pledge of allegiance....wish people would pay attention to history instead of looking at everything through their ignorant god goggles.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Casey B.

      The founding fathers had nothing to do with the Pledge of Allegiance. It was written in 1892, and the "Under God" part was not added until 1954 in response to public fears of communism.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • ok

      ok now, number one the pledge of allegiance wasn't written by the founding fathers or even close to when any of them were alive. two, the under god part of the pledge was added in the 50's, many years after it was written. and being atheist i think that trying to get this sign taken down is a waste of time. but your argument is worse than the argument of the people who want the sign removed

      July 7, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • seriously226

      The Declaration of Independence would have been a better example to prove your point. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. "

      July 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Brian Paul

      The atheists are so rabid and stupid they will probably will ask for all the white crosses in Arlington National Cemetery to be removed. It is government property! They could care less if the people buried under them are the only reason they still have the right to be whiny wimps. Its just a street sign for 7 people who died on 9/11. Have you no shame??? Get a life and get lost!!!!

      July 7, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      Brian Paul, your lack of understanding of the very issue you're railing against is underscored by the fact you believe emphasizing that it is on government property will strengthen your argument. The fact it's on government property *IS* the problem.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Ocherstone

      You realize the Pledge of Allegiance was written in the late 1800s, long after our Founding Fathers died, right? And the original said nothing of "under god." That was added by Eisenhower in the 50s. So, what's your point, Mr. (or Ms.) "Agnostic"? (which is the sissiest type of Atheist, by the way) That you're ok with Christian ideas being the offical name on our street signs? Either we allow all their freedom, or we allow none. I, personally, would like to see everyone able to remember these firefighters, and assuming they're in heaven is folly and offensive, on secular and religious grounds. I'd assume public funds have to be used for this, and I'm not ok with my money going to make Christians feel better about being Christian. As said, remember these people, but leave Heaven out of it, or open yourselves to letting everyone have their say, and I'm willing to bet someone has an idea or two you're not ok with.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  8. Megan E

    I am an atheist and I have no problem with this sign. If the famiies of the 7 fire fighters that died really think their loved ones are in heaven, more power to them. People will believe whatever they need to to lessen the pain. Bin Laden is burning in hell, right?

    July 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Welcome to Reality

      Megan – that's right. Just like when Athiests / Agnostics claim that what they are doing is "alright" – even though the rest of humanity considers it wrong (or a sin), the Athiests / Agnostics will believe whatever they need to believe in order to lesson the pain. If that means they pretend there is no God, and hence – no defined morals (aka relative moralism), then unfortunately that's what they will think.

      Oh and by the way – Bin Laden did not accept Jesus, so yes, he is in Hell. And the firefighters may be in heaven, if they accepted Jesus.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • A name

      Welcome to reality: God did not bestow morals onto people, it came about by people living together. Morality got figured out over time. People got tired of always having to be on guard all the time. They agreed not to steal each others things and murder each other. Google the social contract and learn a thing or two. OR just ask God to explain it to you. Whichever works best.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      Remember that time Jesus taught that if someone is sarcastic about your beliefs, you should be sarcastic right back at them? Oh, wait, he taught you should turn the other cheek. Well, I'm sure your entrance to heaven won't rely on adhering to what you were told to do, anyway, right? No problem.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Scott

      @ Welcome to Reality: Thanks for reminding us that it doesn’t matter how brave, courageous or good a man is. It doesn’t even matter if he gave up his life while trying to rescue others. The only important thing about his entire existence, the only thing of any worth about him is whether he believed in the undetectable sky fairy. Maybe we should research how many of the dead firemen weren’t Christians and dedicate a “burning in hell” avenue to them?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  9. Matt R

    @Kelly: you nailed it. Atheism *is* a religion.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Tony

      Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Me

      I agree. Those who claim to "know" that no God, or gods exist, are just as delusional as those who claim to "know" that God does exist.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      Think about what you're saying. Religion has teachings, customs, practices, traditions. Atheism is just someone saying, "sorry, I think all that is BS" and then going on with their day. Atheism is not a religion, it's just an opinion that religion is all fantasy hocus pocus and that's it. It does not require any belief in any given argument for creation of man. You don't have to believe in the big bang or evolution to be atheist.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Kevin

      Matt R, you nailed it to, you have no idea what atheism or religion is.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Free

      Me
      Are you delusional if you think that you 'know' that Dracula isn't still around and biting necks? You can't 'prove' that he isn't, but you don't at all worry about it possibly being true, right? Most atheists think of God this way. There's a slim chance that He could be real, just because nothing is truly impossible, but we don't worry about it.

      July 7, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  10. Ernie

    "it is also a reference to Judaism, Islam....etc etc."

    In other words, a religious reference.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  11. JLP

    In spite of what this atheist believes, we are a nation founded on Christian principles.We were not founded as a secular state,like say, the Soviet Union.If he is unhappy with the expression of Christian beliefs, he should move to Saudi Arabia. Not many Christians there.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      JLP, I'm not going to type out paragraphs of why you're wrong, but if you really want to be right, do some research on the founding fathers, starting with Thomas Jefferson, who took great pains to ensure that you have the right to pray to what god you want, or pray to no god at all. Additionally, secularism is not in any way equivalent to communism. You're simply making arguments without understanding the underlying facts. In other words, you are ignorant.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Nadine

      'Scuse me, but I'm every bit as American and you are and the offspring of people who paid a terrible price fighting for our freedoms - YOUR freedoms - and I am NOT a Christian. And I know my history. The Founding Fathers didn't found our country on Christian principles, but upon atheists like Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, and so forth. You are extremely offensive, bigoted and ignorant.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Kevin

      If only you had any evidence that this country was founded on christian princiles. i never heard of the christian principle that said its ok to have another religion. i never heard of a christian priciple that says you do not have to be christian to be in power.

      i have evidence that this country was NOT founded on christian principles. just look up Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli. it was unanousmly signed by congress and the president in 1797.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  12. Methusalem2000

    The new, militant atheism / Bolshevism that is becoming characteristic of many industrialized countries is a key reason for the decline of moral, love and compassion. Atheism is a philosophy of nihilism in which nothing is sacred and all is an accident. While it has some brief, flashy moments, life is purposeless and meaningless. There is no soul to illuminate and no spirit to enliven

    July 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Casey B.

      How do you figure? The far more secular European countries have far lower divorce and murder rates than we do here in the US. Your claim is completely unfounded.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Nadine

      BOLSHEVISM????? My dear fellow, the last Bolshevist died decades ago. You're a pip.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  13. Joe

    How petty, childish, and mean spirited can you get? The atheists are every bit as bad as the foam-at-the-mouth fundamentalists who want to shove their ideas down your throat.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  14. TheTruth

    Ignorance and fear create gods, enthusiasm and deceit adorn them, and human weakness worships them. It has been the same throughout history. When men destroy their old gods they find new ones to take their place.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  15. Matt

    Atheists are becoming the bullies now-a-days. So much for tolerance.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      Matt, are you "tolerant" of signs, banners, street names and so on that portray Christianity or other religions as falsehoods?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  16. matt

    I would consider myself an agnostic and support the separation of church/state, plus I would say that I have a slight disdain for religions. However, whenever you hear stories like this, this isn't about atheists/agnostics. These stories are just about jerks.

    If there is a God, I sure hope that those 4 men are honored in "heaven" or whatever is on the other side, for their sacrifice to try to save innocent people.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  17. Keith

    If any of the firefighters were atheists, then they are in hell-not heaven. So the atheists may have have a case.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Casey B.

      How loving and tolerant your religion is.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Keith

      Loving yes, tolerant? No.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  18. stevie68a

    Of course these heros should be honored. But the city has no right using an imaginary place, for which there is no proof of.
    Since innocent muslims also died in the towers, will we also have "Allah Avenue"? Religion is divisive, imaginary, and dangerous.
    It is time for mankind to wake from this childish delusion.
    If you give it some thought, it is the religious people who will bring hell on earth, if given the chance. They kill in the name of God.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Keith

      you can't prove there isn't a heaven or a hell for that matter-logically the possibility of such places cannot be ruled out.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Trey

      Keith, I said that the other day on one of Religious articles. They wouldn't listen to logic.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • the real john

      every one kills in the name of something. just because some do in the name of 'god' doesnt make god a killer. and why do you speak of proof when it cannot be found on either side. these arguments are silly

      July 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • JRsK

      Logic has nothing to do with religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Peter

      If it was a reference to any other religion besides Christianity then it would be taken down before you could blink

      July 7, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Trey

      JRsK, but you can't prove one way or the other if there is a Heaven or not. We're obviously here for something.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Welcome to Reality

      There is "proof" of God in the EXACT same way there is "proof" for scientific theories such as the Big Bang. We cannot replicate the Big Bang, but we have mountains of data (or "clues") that suggest the Big Bang existed. But we cannot "prove" that concept, since we cannot replicate it.

      In much the same way, there is no single "proof" that will be satisfactory for any atheist that God exists. However, there are similar arguments that form a "mountain of clues" which – taken together – strongly suggest that God does exist. Going further, it will not take much work to see that Christianity is the correct religion.

      But, since every single atheist I have ever met did not even bother to research the evidence, I don't expect any athiests here to do so either. Just that fact alone makes their arguments pretty weak since they really don't know what they are arguing.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Debbie

      I'll pray for you Steve ~ it sounds like you have a chip on your shoulder with the world and you seem bitter and angry. Perhaps if you tried believing in God ~ you may find yourself in a better frame of mind and soul....

      July 7, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      Keith, you can't prove ghosts, vampires, the loch ness monster, big foot or atlantis do not exist either. I assume, therefore, you believe in them if that's your only criteria. The rest of us use judgment based on available facts, of which religion is in short supply of.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • kinjirurm

      Welcome to Reality, I'd love to know what this mountain of evidence to support the existence of God is. From my perspective, all I see is a collection of stories handed down over the ages and statements like, "Oh but look how complex life is!" – which is in no way a valid argument or evidence.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  19. KBinMN

    Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune – Yup they all got to go as the names offend me and if something offends precious old me then it must go!

    July 7, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  20. Kelly

    If atheist do not believe in GOD then you think they would just sit back and laugh at our stupidity, in a sense they are creating a religion of atheists "going to war" over issues they do not believe in.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • saganhill

      Go back to start and find the definition of "Atheist". Once you have done that you might want to re-phrase your observation to a more logical statement.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • the real john

      athiest are the most religious bunch of them all. they will fight and scratch and mock you to prove otherwise, which is strange, since we are watching in realtime the creation of their religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • samm

      real john, atheists are also one of the most persecuted groups of people. their beliefs are mocked and dismissed more so than any other.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      @Kelly: the issue of concern is "separation of church and state." The Founders knew that it's dangerous when a government establishes a religion, as King Henry VIII had done in the 1500's by creating the Church of England. So, the Founders forbade the U.S. government from ever establishing a religion. Not because the Founders were atheists, but because they knew that the separation of church is essential if religious freedom is to exist. Religion should be a personal thing, not something "forced" on us by a government (local, state, or federal). Government should be secular. We don't need a theocracy. Theocracy is what they have in Iran. That being said, this sign business is harmless. "Heaven" is not a specifically Christian term. "Hog Heaven", "Seventh Heaven", etc., are just terms. If this "Seven in Heaven" sign brings some peace to the average new Yorker, or keeps the memory of 9/11 alive, that's a good thing.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:38 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.