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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. DONNIEB

    Athiest, your problem is that you do believe in GOD but you are of your father Satan and are jealous of GOD...therefore, anything you can do to try and remove GOD from this world, you will do....but, be warned, God has won and you and Satan will live in the pit of fire for eternity with the rest of the idiots that don't want GOD "shoved down their throats"...you have no idea the hell that waits for you and the fire that will burn in your throat....

    July 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Sir Craig

      Oh, give it up you half-wit.

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

      AMEN!

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

      Sir Craig
      Try for a lower fraction on DONNIEB's wit; you're really giving him way too much credit!

      July 7, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • EmeraldCity

      Your post is a perfect example of delusional thinking. Scary to see that people still think this way in 2011.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Larry

      The atheists are trying to shove their beliefs down your throat. I disagree totally with them. But I read this nonsense about satanists and your crazy beliefs and I have a hard time deciding which of you is worse.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Mr. Cat

      Do you know just how ridiculous you sound? Just...well...read your post again. Enjoy your fairy tales, but please stop shoving them down others' throats.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • wgage

      So, since I don't believe in magic I must believe in satan. Well that is news to me.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  2. Jimmyjam048

    Facts. God gave man free will. We can freely chose to believe or not. The choice is yours. Atheist comes from the Latin word " Atheos", which means "without God". So........ Even the word Atheist pertains to God. Perhaps they should call themselves something else. Not forcing the issue but I'm just sayin...

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

      Atheisim is a rejection of a belief in magic.

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

      Atheists actually go by many names. Free Thinkers, Skeptics, Brights, Secular Humanists, just to name a few.
      Even Buddhists are atheists!

      July 7, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • wgage

      Buddhism is a religion. There is belief in magic.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Dan

      Umm.....what? A (not) theist (theism...the belief in a deity or deities). The idea has been around a lot longer than your religion. When you looked up the wikipedia etymology to come up with your history did you neglect to note the fact that as a term it originally was talking about people who didn't believe in Zeus, Hera, Athena, etc. etc. etc.? You're going to Hades, mister!

      July 7, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  3. Randall

    I think it's pretty sad that a group of people with nothing better to do but whine about a street sign. I know I'm not loosing any sleep over a group of people who got their feelings hurt.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  4. deelogeelo

    "...there really should not be any religious symbolism or signage in public places,” said Kenneth Bronstein. This is zero tolerance he's preaching. So, churches should just not be visible, especially not crucifixes. Don't read Bibles in public or the Bronstein will sue. Everything in the world offends someone in the world in some way, but we can't just burn it all down. Tolerance is necessary in this melting pot. Acceptance that everyone is different in a beautiful way. Just because you hate it doesn't mean other Americans' beliefs should be banned.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • wgage

      State endorced church is what offends.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Seriously?

      What is offensive about someone else's happiness or beliefs?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • wgage

      Seriously, the state should stay out of religion. If you value your freedom to practice your religion you should agree.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  5. Say what?

    If name goes unchanged, maybe this Bronstein guy will prove his dedication by funding the production of "Garmin: Atheist Edition." The word "heaven" will be removed from Garmin's vocabulary, sheltering even the most sensitive atheist from such a burdensome word.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  6. Patrick

    This seems petty to me, too... but ask yourself whether you'd think the pettiness would be justified if the shoe were on the other foot?

    We live in a largely religious, Christian-populated nation, so Christians tend to feel emboldened in denouncing attempts against relatively small, symbolic religious endorsements such as this one. But how would a Christian feel if the sign read "Seven in Jannah," for the Muslim version of heaven (loosely)? Would it then seem so silly to nitpick?

    I've said this in the past with the Pledge of Allegiance. Many Christians complain about the attempt to restore the Pledge and remove the phrase "under God," saying the attempt is, again, at best, petty. But how would Christians feel if the phrase were instead "under Satan," or EVEN "under gods"–the latter phrase certainly being more factually representative of a country diverse in religious faiths?

    The problem with a small, symbolic issue like this sign is that it is divisive: it takes a national tragedy and attempts to squeeze it into the confines of one religion. I can understand the Christian assertion that "we're the majority," and the immediate (if irrational) justification that FEELS like it brings; but I'll never understand the Christian who cannot then, thinking, realize that the shoe could be on the other foot, and see the frustration and injustice of having a majority religion so casually imposed.

    Myself, I have no problem with the sign. But some people do, and they have a point. Is one solution for those people who are being left out or imposed upon to just deal with it, to accept the thoughtless majority rule as a fact of American life? Yes, that would be a solution. But another solution is for the thoughtless majority to start thinking, and to stop imposing their religion everywhere they can BECAUSE they can. And, while I have no problem with the sign, this is just another case where that second solution is the better solution.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • deelogeelo

      i am certain real christians would have zero problem with a street named seven of jannah, except for those false christians. Intolerance is prejudice and dangerous, no matter what your beliefs.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Seriously?

      agreed dee. To Love Jesus is to Love everyone and everything, no matter what.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • wgage

      Seriously, that is one of the reasons I reject your religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Patrick

      Christians protested hugely over the existence of a community center near Ground Zero... I doubt very much a sign reading "Seven in Jannah" to commemorate the attacks would have gone over much better...

      But, regardless, using "intolerance" as a word to describe the rejection of state-endorsed religion is a little too off-target. The existence of any specific religious terminology ("Jannah," "Heaven," "God," etc.) in government is the initial act of intolerance, as it alienates those to whom it does not apply. I understand that "Heaven" is meant as a lovely word–and, as an agnostic who grew up in a Christian culture, it does not actually offend me personally–but it implies a specifically Christian belief that is intrinsically dismissive of any belief which opposes Christianity. "Tolerance," in this sense, means that you should be allowed to practice your religion; it does NOT mean that the government should be able to undermine anyone else's.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • wgage

      Dee, look up "No True Scotsman"
      Your argument is a logical fallacy.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  7. Sam Houston

    Wow. Does being an atheist mean that you have nothing else to do but waste precious time and money worrying about what others think and fighting about it? It seems so.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Michael

      Not other individuals. Just the government.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • wgage

      It is not just atheists that fight to keep the idea of seperation of church and state. If you value your freedom of religion you should join the fight.

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

    A part of me get so angry when I read these stories of people expecting the world to appease them. Suck it up! Then that other part of me relishes in pure satisfaction knowing just how miserable these people really are.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  9. chyrd

    as an outspoken atheist, I find that this makes us look terrible. They are fighting the wrong battles.

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

      Dumb. (Not as dumb as Christianity, but still dumb.)

      July 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • the real john

      all joking aside, i think 'true' athiests are getting a taste of what 'true' believers face every time some religious nut says the world is ending. were all lumped together and ridiculed till the cows come home. im glad this happened.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Sam Houston

      Why be an "outspoken atheist"? Does that truly make you happy and give you a purpose in life? What is accomplished in destroying the belief of a loving Creator? [I am not talking about Christendom's (professed Christianity) twisted propaganda. I am talking about the one the Bible teaches.]

      July 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  10. jessup

    Really? these people need to get a life. If you dont like it, dont look at the sign. Worry about how to fix your own life.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Lawrene

      How about changing every town or city that has a religious name. Saint Louis, Saint Joseph, San Francisco, and so on.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  11. rdf

    I'm an atheist but I think it is a stupid fight. If that was what the family for the 7 who died wanted then it is fine. It is a memorial sign not a personal offense against anyone's belief. Why can't more people just live and let live?

    July 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Michael

      Agree 100%.

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

      Atheists need to choose the correct battles... this is NOT one of them. It makes us look petty.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  12. Seriously?

    I'm a Christian but I am also a very FFAAAARRR left liberal. I am all for seperation of Church and State... however, this has nothing to do with either as far as I am concerned. These people were heros and if their families do not oppose these signs then let them be. It is something for those families to be proud of. Let them rest in PEACE.

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

      Name it " Seven Heroes Way"

      July 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Say what?

      wgage, I actually like that name better.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Seriously?

      If their families believe they are in Heaven then let it be.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  13. I'm the Real Jesus

    Symbolism over substance. Take it down. I don't need the kiss-up self promotion.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  14. Prettygreenbird

    Dang, I for one think that government + religion = disaster, but this is just ridiculous! A street sign alluding to the existence of heaven is NOT tantamount to the government endorsing any religion. It merely acknowledges that many people believe in an afterlife.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  15. the real john

    i said it before and ill say it again. yall better not touch my angel food cake or my devil food snacks. keep attacking road signs but dont touch my heavenly delight apple pie.

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

      OK, but only if it is not government indorsed.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Michael

      Again, please stay on topic.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      I wonder if they serve any of those things at the White House. Impeach for Breach.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • the real john

      wgage and michael, alright, ill get back on topic. stop spending your 'in god we trust' money now. give it all to me and ill dispose of it properly. and michael, id change that biblical name while you are at. its very un athiest.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Michael

      Sorry, neither my Visa card not my paycheck has the word God on them anywhere. I do have about fifteen dollars in bills and coins I use for tolls which you are welcome to split amongst your fellow Christians. I can always get an EZ Pass.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • the real john

      thanks? but you should send it to your local athiest chapter. theyre gonna need it on their next fight against 'god bless you'. lots of people needed to fight that one. have fun mr ezpass, tell em john the christian sent ya!

      July 7, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  16. LukeD

    "We’re supposed to be a secular nation – there really should not be any religious symbolism or signage in public places" – while we ARE a fairly secular nation, that's not what we are "supposed" to be as Kenneth Bronstein says... We (as represented by the 1954 Congress) chose to be "One nation under God" and, despite recent news events, we haven't voted to change that yet.
    As far as the public display of Christian references, you have to be pretty ignorant of our nation's history to suggest that the display of religious symbols or signage violates the principles or practices we are founded on.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  17. Kenton

    "We're supposed to be a secular nation..."?? Really?? One major reason we decided to split from BG was *religious freedom*.
    To be tolerant of each others beliefs, because we were not allowed to do so beforehand.
    Atheists sure are vocal in their support of nothing. If you don't believe in a Deity, just chuckle at us and go on your merry way.
    It's like fighting for a space to be filled with empty air, and getting upset when something occupies that space. Why is defending nothing so important? I don't protest Devil's Tower. But change the name to "The Lord's Tower", and boy, watch 'em crawl out of the woodwork. Get a life. Stop defending empty space. Stand for something, not nothing.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  18. Willie12345

    What is the real driving force behind this objection ?

    July 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • the real john

      hatred of all road signs must be the final agenda. the athiests are forming a religion to ban all angel food cake and road signs so we all get confused and hungry when we drive.

      July 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  19. Allen

    Without symbolisim ur country would have failed. There are very few people in the world that do not use symbolisim in some way to uplift or incite fear. We cannot live without it it seems but for anyone who might not want to see a naked body or a cross on a church try this. Walk blindfolded, after you have smacked your shins a few times you will learn to let it go and focus on more pressing matters, like finding good homes for orphans who are forced to live in shelter bombarding them with this symbolism daily.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  20. Trudy

    What's wrong with people. These people don't believe in God anyway. Just don't look up at the sign. I pray that God has mercy on these so called people who think this sign is wrong. It seems like freedoms are being taken away more and more. They whine and cry. I pray that God deals strongly with these people. Stop whinning and grow up. There's nothing wrong with the sign honoring our firefighters. Can't tell me that they wouldn't want to be honored. So sad how our world is getting. These are the last days America before the Lord Jesus returns..

    July 7, 2011 at 5:47 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.