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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. james

    I think the atheists are right on. Apart from the relentless drumming of 9/11 at every turn, I don't think every public space should be occupied with this kind of churlish sentiment. We already have a huge memorial in Manhattan. Let's move on.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  2. KBinMN

    I'd like to understand the legal case better. Congress has not established a religion based on the fact that the NYC put up a simple street sign so there is no 1st admendment violation and I still can't find the term 'seperation of church and state' anywhere in the Consitiution.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  3. Empress of the Universe

    Oh brother, how petty and banal can you get. This makes PETA look reasonable.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  4. displeased

    As an atheist, I am not offended by that sign. I think those who are offended by the sign should find hobbies, or a girlfriend, or something.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • JJ

      ABSOLUTELY!! I am an atheist as well, and this sign does not threaten me one bit. If this gives comfort to those that lost their loved ones on this tragic day, then I am all for it. NY Atheists – you give us a bad name!!!!!!!

      July 7, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • robert

      As a fellow atheist I am amazed by your complete ignorance of the issue. This is not about being threatened or offended by a sign, this is about the state supporting and paying for the expression of one select group's religious beliefs. If you do not appreciate the significance of that then I seriously doubt you are an atheist. I am sure that your attendance at their prayer meetings would also give them comfort so unless you are a hypocrite please indulge them.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • fred

      Robert,
      It was a P R move by the city. The city does not beleive in heaven, perhaps the families did that the city wants to induldge. The real cost is defending against the ACLU not this sign. But, thank you and your fellow atheist for making a big deal out of it. You also point to the truth, Jesus lives ! As you can see there are still the same people out there ready to nail him to the Cross

      July 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • robert

      @fred, in the stories Jesus was not nailed to a cross by atheists but by people of other faiths while the people of his faith did nothing to help him. But then again, it is just a story and we can make it say anything we want. I guess that is why bibles are better than laws, because we can pick and chose what we want, when it serves us best.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  5. Yup

    I am an atheist, but the atheist organization challenging this sign is absolutely moronic.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • robert

      I am a christian and the atheist organization challenging this sign is absolutely correct

      July 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • frank

      I am a devout Satanist and I support the sign.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • robert

      I am a devout hindu and I think the sign should say, 'seven, right back at you"

      July 7, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • robert

      I am a greek pagan and I think the sign should read, "seven on the Elysian Fields."

      July 7, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • robert

      I am Norse and I think the sign should read, "seven in Valhalla."

      July 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  6. ProperVillain

    How about we just use ALL of the terms for "heaven" for the street sign?

    Nirvana, Valhalla, Tian, Elysium, Jannah, Paradise and for the Atheist we can throw in "oblivion"

    That way everyone can be happy and we can merrily skip down the PC path so as to not offend the more sensitive souls of our nation in any way, shape or form.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  7. joshua

    To all Christians, it is a good thing to keep in our mind that God will judge everyone based on their doing wether right or wrong and only God has the last saying, so please let stop judging and wasting time with this people they are not with God so they are with the enemy therefore God will take care of it. Lets be patient....Emmanuel....

    July 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • robert

      "so please let stop judging and wasting time with this people they are not with God so they are with the enemy therefore God will take care of it" please look up the word hypocrite.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  8. Mana

    REALLY !?!? What a waste, over a street sign?!?! Why would the NYCA take the city's time, resouces and tax payers $$$$$ for this case to be litigated ? This made CNN because it is so silly....only in America!!!

    July 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  9. Coolio

    This is absolutely beyond disgusting. I'm agnostic myself, but a group of atheists that reverse-bible thump, are no better than bible thumpers themselves(and no I'm not considering religion, or everyone who believes in religion as a whole, bible thumpers; just the ones who push their religion and say it's the only way). Can't people just have their own beliefs and accept the fact that their way isn't the only one?

    July 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  10. Branzinni Boombatz

    Separation of Church and State means just that! A street sign is approved and erected by the state, it doesn't belong. It may appear unimportant and mundane, but it is a fundamental breakdown of that edict. - FYI The founding fathers did not create this country on Christianity, get your facts straight! Try reading, that helps!!!!

    July 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Coolio

      Wow, I think you're taking separation of church and state just a TAD bit too literal. It's a freaking name on a street sign, not a government being run by a church, or influenced by a church... who else do you propose should approve the name of that street sign? Oh that's right, if anyone else besides the city/state did it, it would just be vandalism, destruction of property, or some other bogus legal charges.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Mr. Haskeli

      Wanna go renew your driver license with me next Christmas? I am suuuureee the DMV will be open.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • lala

      Hello, This country was founded on Christian Principles and Values. Apparently the families of the seven members do not care then why do you have to care so much?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • robert

      Coolio, "I think you're taking separation of church and state just a TAD bit too literal" so the law doesn't mean this literally? Is it just some kind of legal joke the rest of us don't get? Perhaps they should have defined it as, "kinda like the seperation of church and state but like, not really – just sort of...you know " Coolio, leave thinking to those with brain cells.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  11. Alan

    Athiests really need to choose their battles more wisely. Is this really the most egregious form of forcing religion on people?

    July 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • robert

      "Is this really the most egregious form of forcing religion on people?" should we only address the most egregious forms? Give the rest a pass? We could save a lot of money that way. Lets only enforce the laws against the most egregious criminal acts. Don't call the cops unless you've got the worst crime of the decade on your hands, the police and legal system are trying to do a better job at picking their battles.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  12. Paul Rushing

    This is why 88% of Americans don't take atheists seriously. They just can't get over the fact that America is *NOT* a secular nation. Yes, we believe in the separation of church and state (the government cannot force you to believe in a particular religion or officially sanction one church over another). But that doesn't mean that a local community can't reference religion anywhere in public. It would be insane to remove ALL references to God and religion from public life. The vast majority of Americans believe in a supreme being, and the government is "by the People, for the People." With all the crying and barking they do, atheists simply can't sue that reality away. And a simple, lovely street sign in Brooklyn is hardly a form of religious repression. Spare me.

    The problem with these radical atheists is that by suing individuals and neighborhoods, they essentially silence them, thus stripping them of the freedom to speak and the freedom to express themselves. Ironically, in the name of "civil rights", they hijack the ideals of our cities and communities, and devoid them of any sense of history, tradition and freedom. It's quite shameful.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Alan

      Actually, it is pretty secular in many large cities, especially in California and the Northeast.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • robert

      "This is why 88% of Americans don't take atheists seriously". Where did you come up with that number, or is it just made up like the rest of your belief system? And I thought that the reason christians don't take atheists seriously is because atheists are heathens that should be burned in heck? But what do you expect from the religion of brotherly love? Personally, I don't think the opinion of a people who believe the earth is 6k years old really counts for much.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  13. Steve

    This is absurd! Who cares what the name of the street is! That's just like requesting a street named Lilly be changed because it reminds you of an ex girlfriend. This type of behavior is going to make it impossible to do anything in America! As long as the Gov't doesn't mandate an individual to believe a certain way, we are fine!

    July 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  14. Next Generation

    i am just wishing that this godless generation that currently runs America can hurry up and become old and useless so that we the youth of america can finally get to running this country like our grandfathers and their fathers did, all that this generation has done for this country is go to a senseless war, raise up our national debt substantially, and take us to the near brink of economic collapse.. its such a shame

    July 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • robert

      "all that this generation has done for this country is go to a senseless war, raise up our national debt substantially, and take us to the near brink of economic collapse" actually a born-again-christian did that for you and he was voted in by christians who couldn't stand the thought that gay people be mariied. Perhaps if you voted for an atheists who relies on critical thought rather than bronze age myths for guidance you would still have jobs and fewer americans would be dead.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  15. Brian

    That group better stay out of Washington DC and any other city that posts the 10 commandments. What about the dollar? What about the Lincoln memorial...or all the vast other city and national monuments and names that force them to see something related to God? I mean...how dumb do you have to be to complain about a street sign? Move on with life and turn your head when you walk up to the sign if you don't like it!

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

      "In God We Trust" was only added to money long after the Founding Fathers were dead, and President Theodore Roosevelt thought it was sacrilegious to put the name of God on money.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • robert

      And if instead of seven in heaven the sign read seven in heII would you walk by and look the other way? The oppressor can never understand why the oppressed don't just willingly go along with the plan.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  16. mg

    I've never seen a more crusaing band of zealots than aethists. I truly hate those tight a$$ed people. They just don't know the meaning of live and let live.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • Sir Craig

      Apparently we do know how to spell-check, though...

      July 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • the real john

      people type fast and presume others understand spelling errors are commonly made. unless its an article about grammar I don't know why you'd make a comment about spelling. unless you have nothing else to say. unmberstand whut i meen?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • PDXMark

      "I truly hate those people." Who doesn't know the meaning of live and let live?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Mark in Seattle

      You should get our more then. Atheists may move too far and file frivolous lawsuits now and then, but I've never had atheists knock on my door Sunday morning and try to convert me, nor has a group of atheists rushed into a state, demanding a say in who is allowed to marry.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Timoteo

      "I truly hate those people". How christian of you.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Select

      Every atheist I know is very much a "live and let live" person. Their primary complaint with religion is often its refusal to treat them in the same manner. The story's activists are wasting time & money, and are not representative.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  17. Michael

    I suspect Christians would be equally offended if the street name referred to something Atheist...

    July 7, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • Brian

      Nah, if it said even NO GOD DRIVE I would walk by and just chuckle!

      July 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Vasmikey

      We call it, 'road to pardition' ??? LOL

      July 7, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Dan

      Im an athiest, and gotta say "No God Drive" is the best comment on this board LOL... Everyone needs to just relax a little bit more. There are few things worth getting really worked up about. This sign is not one of them.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Andy

      Would'nt be any different from "Devil's Row". 🙂

      July 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  18. KBinMN

    This may be repeat as for some reason my comments are going for moderation but how does a city putting up a simple street sign signal that Congress has passed a law establishing a religion in violation of the 1st admendment?

    July 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  19. MsElle

    This atheist group is absolutely disgusting. Quite frankly to me they are on par with the Westboro baptist church. These fire fighters died aiding the citizens of New York, if their fellow fire fighters and community feels this is the appropriate way to commemorate their memory, what's the issue? It's freedom of religion not freedom FROM religion. Not to mention the concept of Heaven while rooted in Christianity has evolved to be a term that just means a great place.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • PDXMark

      The atheist group said clearly that they support honoring the firefighters. They just don't want to use government money (which comes from all taxpayers, including atheists) to honor the firefighters by using a religious reference. And sorry, it IS about freedom FROM government-established religion. If you want a religious way to commemorate the firefighters' sacrifice, do it in a church, synagogue, mosque, ashram, whatever, with private money. No one, including the atheists, is against that.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • robert

      "It's freedom of religion not freedom FROM religion." what an evil comment. The soviets practiced your form of freedom. You have the freedom to chose as long as you chose what we want you to chose. Perhaps you need to look at a book other than the bible, like say a dictionary, and figure out what the word freedom means. You'll be surprised that it doesn't mean forcing your bronze age myths down everyone's throats. It is comments like yours that make atheists go to extraordinary lengths to keep religion out of government because we know once you start that witch burnings and holy wars are not far behind.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  20. Singerlady

    Bronstein says we are a secular nation...if there is no God, there is no secular...there is nothing to be "secular" from. If someone chooses to believe in God, they should have the right to express it the way they want.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Michael

      Sure they should. But why do you need it on money or in the pledge? Remember that little tirade Jesus had on Palm Sunday? Wouldn't that suggest to you that he would not want to be tied to commerce?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Free

      Singerlady
      "If someone chooses to believe in God, they should have the right to express it the way they want."

      Wasn't that exactly what the 9/11 bombers were doing?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Select

      If there was no God, would people simply invent one? Then we'd have a good reason to be secular.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • the real john

      free. no, thats not what the 9-11 bombers were doing. i cant explain it without a 4 paragraph post but the short answer is no. unless you are just trying to be antagonistic like these street sign guys. but research their purpose and youll find your answer

      July 7, 2011 at 6:57 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.