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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. Clint

    Firstly, I am pretty sure the families did not put the sign up, the city did, thus it's a city issue.

    Secondly, if someone put that on their private driveway, it would be no problem.

    Thirdly, and I am NOT an atheist, but if you people would use some common sense instead of just professing your faith or bible quotes, you'd realise that, while you may think it's trivial, in the big picture, it's not.

    How so, the longer something is allowed to happen the more it is seen as "ok" or "accepted" by the populous even if alot of people disapprove of it, or it's not legal.

    Then, typically, it's too late to stop doing it, so someone just changes the law and allows it to be legal, then the country is stuck with it.

    Those who think this is a trivial issue are mostly those who are religious, because of course, to them it would be trivial, they like the sign. Now if it were a sign that said, "remembering the "7 atheist firefighters, 911", I bet the religious folks would throw a fit about it. (if it even got approved by the city, which I doubt it would (atheist firefighters, OH MY!))

    I'm betting alot of the "I'm an atheist and I think this is silly" posts are actually religious folks, hiding behind their keyboards "doing the lord's work"........

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

      Clint
      Thanks for bringing me out from behind my keyboard ! You made a great argument against gay marriage: "the longer something is allowed to happen the more it is seen as "ok" or "accepted" by the populous even if alot of people disapprove of it, or it's not legal.

      Then, typically, it's too late to stop doing it, so someone just changes the law and allows it to be legal, then the country is stuck with it. "

      Look out you will be branded a hypocrite and a hater so best retract that argument

      July 7, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • BR

      @fred-Sure...just like civil rights, etc. Once people started tolerating minorities drinking from the same waterfountain it was a slippery slope from there. [rolleyes]

      July 7, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • fred

      BR
      Hey, that was Clints comment not mine regarding a slippery slope. At least you confirmed the direction one goes in when tollerance rules

      July 7, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  2. zaglossus

    I'm an atheist and too often my co-believers (or non-believers, actually) seem almost as pushy as religionists. This is just a figure of speech, for Pete's sake.

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

      Sad but true just as there are Christians who are embarrassed by Christians. Note this is not about validity of belief but about HOW you believe something regardless of whether it's true or not.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  3. free spirt

    I wonder how this country was founded? By Christians not atheists!

    July 7, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • buck

      you need to read a history book.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Clint

      Do some homework, many were not christians, and they were adamant about not mixing religion with anything even remotely having to do with goverment. (like city sponsored road signs....)

      They were a smart bunch, particularly Thomas Jefferson.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  4. f

    Some people are just morons. Atheists are the biggest morons. They are all going to HE-L-L and are trying to drag everyone down with them. Of course the rise of agnotics and atheists in America coincide with the slow demise of the real family, rise in drug use to find solace, comfort and meaning in life and in general the slow death of the American way of life.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • John Gault

      I beg to differ. I am an atheist. I have 2 lovely children, a wife of 25 years I've never cheated on, and have never improperly touched an altar boy. More than you can say for your average Vatican priest.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Dina

      Amen !!!! God shows nothing but love and mercy , kindess to those who believe and understand that he died on the cross for ALL OF OUR SINS !!! May God Bless you

      July 7, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • S.K.

      FYI: Drug use, abortion, intolerance, divorce rate and adultry are all higher among religious people. They are related to lack of literacy which is also higher among religious people. So, please stop holding others responsible for your own problems. Oh, wait a minute, that's what your religion teaches you to do anyway. So, don't worry, you are on your way to heaven where you can enjoy the company of others like you. If the idea of heaven can used to collect all of your kind in one place, makes it easier for others to live in peace. God, save us from your followers...

      July 7, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • BR

      @Dina-love and mercy? He horifficly tortured and executed his own son. Then there's that whole "every living thing outside of the ark" thing...but that's just a story, right?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • fred

      BR,
      You need to brush up on your bible. God did not do those things to his son. People did it and do it this day. It is called darkness. Jesus reply was "father forgive them for they know not what they do" ! He did not say father how could you!

      July 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      @fred ... "why have you forsaken me?" 'member that one?

      July 7, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • fred

      DrDiomedes,
      “Why have you forsaken me” – Yes, Jesus took the sin of man upon himself at the Cross. Sin separates man from God. At that moment Jesus was separated from God. As scripture says he bore the full penalty of sin and the wages of sin is death. Now depending on what your belief system is that is the myth or the truth as it was written. Note the gap between myth and truth is large so there can be no confusion as to what is truth. On this web site we like to jump back and forth over this canyon between truth and lie. Sometimes we try and use logic but it has always been a matter of faith. Simple faith is all it takes yet logic sends you down a rabbit hole chasing after the darkness. Since you have some good quotes from the bible on hand remember Jesus said “things are not as they appear”.

      July 8, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  5. Read the Bill

    I believe it is "Freedom of Religon" not "Freedom from Religon".

    July 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Clint

      What you believe has nothing to do with what it really is.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      True dat ... but it is still gov discriminating when they use our tax dollars to promote religious notions ... it may not be illiegal, but it is wrong; e.g. remember Westburo Church

      July 7, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • scott

      Oh your right there. As long as we have freedom of religion we will never have freedom from religion

      July 8, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  6. Joe

    If you don't believe, then why do you care? It's something that makes the family and friends of these heroes feel better, then why can't you put your own person al feelings aside? Looking at the picture, the street is actually called Richards St. So, this is obviously an honorary thing anyway. This guy is just looking to make some noise and get some attention. What an ass.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • jesus

      I agree with him. Put it in your drive way.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • f

      The non-believers/atheists shoudl just laugh and point fingers at the sign they don't like. That's what the believers do to the atheists. It doesn't hurt you, or take anything away from your life. Shut up move on atheists.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Clint

      Actually, more often than not, the religious folks get violent, or as in the case of the sign at the capital building in Olympia Washington, they actually stole the sign and threw it in a ditch along the highway.

      Real nice folks, those christians.....

      July 7, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  7. Dina

    poor chett and ron ..... soooo you blame God for your problems ??? thats why your hateful and so angry ???? blame who ever you want you are an individual and your choices have consequences.... if your against something you'll speak up right ?? well so will I. I have a college degree dont let your spiteful hearts be so consumed by your hateful love

    July 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • jesus

      Everyone step aside. Mr College degree is going to grace us with his wisdom.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  8. HenkV

    There is only one thing worse than organized religion, and that is organized atheism.
    Until I go to court to force you to etch the word 'heaven' on your own street sign, leave my street sign alone.
    These atheists are just starting to behave like the bible thumpers they don't like. Live and let live please!

    July 7, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • jesus

      I wouldn't want to see it either. If it doesn't matter, change it to"Atheist support the FF Way"

      July 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  9. DrDiomedes

    Not only are we a Christian nation, as the majority of the Founding Fathers were Christian. We are also a white nation, as they were all Caucasian Europeans. Come to think of it, we are a male nation, too, because all the founding fathers were men. So if you are not a white male Christian of European descent, then you are as un-american as un-apple pie. Screw individual liberties, that's not what the Founding Fathers fought for; majority rules!

    July 7, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • jesus

      Ignorant idiot

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

      Thanks jesus. Next your going to have me gnashing my teeth, right? At least give me a "knowledgeable idiot"

      July 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Shemp Howard

      Please stop speaking in the past tense, or get back into your Delorean.

      LIVE IN THE NOW.

      Also....there isn't a god so stop shoving nursery rhymes and lies down people's throats

      July 7, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      BTW ... read the sarcasm in the original post. TONGUE IN CHEEK

      July 7, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Clint

      He's obviously not a historian, not all of the founding fathers were christian, but almost all of them knew you should never mix religion with goverment.

      But, most religous folks don't have an open mind. That's what brainwashing will do to a person.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • BR

      @DrDiomedes-PRICELESS

      @Clint-Lighten up and read the post again.

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

      THANK YOU BR! ... I was starting to feel I need to save virtual face amongst my brethren here

      July 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  10. Branzinni Boombatz

    Judgement day is every single day of your life, and how you act towards your fellow human beings. When you die, your dead! The only person that can judge you is you! Not God, not Moses, not the Buddha, not Mohamed, etc... You either practice tolerance and love, or you don't! Anyone that believes that only a specific religious sect will go to 'heaven' or ?, will surely be going to purgatory, if you believe in that sort of thing. Personally, I believe in the Branzinni Boombatz religion, it is about tolerance, acceptance and love, period!

    July 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • f

      HJello Dr. Vinny Boombatz,

      When you are dead you can no longer judge yourself. You are dead and it is too late to judge. You need to judge yourself now. Only GOD will judge you after he calls you.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  11. Allahisgay

    Why "Seven in Heaven"? Why not Seventy Three in Paradise? It's all the same demented stupidity anyway. Honoring the dead would be better achieved by forgetting religion.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  12. Alex

    I am an atheist, but this just seems petty.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  13. Dina

    I will help and fight for the sign to stay up I will see you in court and all for the right reasons !!!! God help each and everyone of you that are against his kind love and mercy you wil need it !!! every knee will bow and declare his majesty

    July 7, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • dennis

      All the atheists in the world will find themselves in a foxhole someday, as always they will call out to God! He loves them so much, He will answer.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • RonFromNM

      "Every knee will bow"? You exemplify what's wrong w/ religion. Total intolerance.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • jesus

      jesus says there is no god. Evolve already

      July 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Clint

      Wow, you peiople get more ignorant every day, no wonder I stopped coming on here for a while.

      There have always been non-religious folks in "foxholes", though there are rerely ANY soldiers in a foxhole in modern combat, but you know what I mean.

      Anyone who says that a non religious person will "call out to god" in combat is someone who obviously has never been in combat or the military.

      Wake up, people, you only get one shot, don't waste it.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • fred

      المسيح هو الرب

      July 7, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • C. Smythe

      sorry . . . there is no god . . . sorry

      July 7, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • fred

      C. Smythe
      Say that 10 times and click your heels together and let me know what you see

      July 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  14. RonFromNM

    I'm an atheist and I think this is stupid. If the firefighters being honored by this sign had this belief then they deserve the sign. There's better legal battles to pursue, this is just small-minded.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Eric

      I agree with you. I'm a Catholic, but I still think that if seven atheists died and their families wanted an atheistic commemorative sign, then they should be allowed to have it. This country stands for freedom of religion – not freedom from it. That should mean that people get to celebrate and commemorate how they want, no matter what religion they choose or if they choose to abstain from religion. So long as the city didn't buy the sign with taxpayer money, it should stay.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  15. Branzinni Boombatz

    It is not the sign, it is not against God, it is not against religion, it is standing up for a principle that is a cornerstone of the fabric of our great nation! Separation of Church and State, no matter how trivial the issue may be. I agree that this sign issue is trivial, but the principle is paramount!

    July 7, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  16. GAW

    Let's also change the name of all streets, cities and businesses with the name Saint or St. in the beginning of it. So that means no more St. Paul Minnesota. And Los Angeles must go too (Ref to Angels) San Jose (St Joseph) San Francisco (St Francis) need I go on.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Dina

      Very well said atheists are confused and they seem lost in their own "religion"

      July 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Michael

      Seeing as all those places were named before they came under US jurisdiction, I do not find that necessary.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • GAW

      @ Michael But still the atheists in question still have to be consistent. Those names still carry with them religious connotations just like Seven in Heaven. BTW I have to wonder if the atheists fighting this have an alternative name for the street (One that still honors the firefighters)

      July 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Michael

      GAW... My point is that the government should separate church from state. It should not change what exists based on religion one way or the other. If something has always been named after something religious, keep it that way. If something was never named after something religious, don't change it to something religious.

      I do not object to this sign because it obviously is a memorial to firemen who were Christian and whose families would like to remember them as their religion dictates. However there are other instances where church and state are not properly separated that I do object to.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • GAW

      @ Michael I think we have an understanding and agreement then. Thanks for clarifying your stance.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  17. Preacherman

    Atheists are afraid of heaven because there, they will find love and compassion, concepts they never experienced in life on earth. There will be no one to hate, insult and nothing to be angry about. How can people be so intelorant of others' suffering? How can one add insult to the injuries that families of the victims of a major catastrophe are still suffering today? What is the atheist's moral principle?

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

      Amen Preacherman !!

      July 7, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Doug

      Wrong... They just don't want religion shoved down their throats when it's illegal.. Period !

      July 7, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Pete

      Atheists aren't afraid of heaven any more than we're afraid of the tooth fairy, the bogeyman, elves, garden gnomes, or unicorns.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Michael

      Our moral principle is that you need not be religious to be a good and decent human being and you need not invoke religion to do a good deed. I am not against this sign as it is clearly the will of the families of those honored, however one does not need to invoke religion to honor these heroes.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • toodledoodle

      They aren't afraid of anything, they just don't happen to suffer from the same delusions as most of the rest of the planet.

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

      I'm an Atheist because I simply don't buy into the illogical story. I choose not to believe for several reasons, but not a single one because of what you mentioned. Everyone thinks Atheists are scared of heaven, or want hate. Personally I consider myself a person who lives by moral standards much stronger than the majority of people out there. Just because I don't believe in God doesn't mean I don't have love and compassion, or don't understand right and wrong. I think much of the hypocrisy used by religious groups to attack non-religious people is part of the reason its hard to take religions seriously. There are many good religious people and many good Atheist people. Every group has its good and bad people and that's just the way it is.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Dina

      This country was founded on 4 founding fathers if you dont like it .... then find somewhere else to live or take it up with God !!! religon wil forever exist God Bless !

      July 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      Speak for yourself. Love is not exclusive to religious people. Buddhism is a philosophy that shares love and practice selfless compassion as its highest precept. In fact, Buddhists haven't been getting into all of the religious wars, crusades, killing of witches, and the other bloody acts that christians, jews and muslims have participated in. The only thing that scares me about heaven being real is the thought of being stuck with self-important hypocrites for all of eternity. That truly is a hell.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • hip

      How is just having the street sign 'shoving it down our throats?' Dang, just grow a set. What a sensitive bunch.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • YeahBut

      I am sure these firefighters have memorials elsewhere (at the statonhouse, at their gravesite perhaps?) and I do not think yet another sign is helping to ease anyone's suffering. Personally the sign doesnt bother me but it's the principle. What if your satan-worshipping neighbor dies – would you want a sign at the end of your street saying "In Satan's Glory" or something similar?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • sandalista

      Ignorance is bliss...

      July 7, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Nathan

      Dina, you do realize that our four fathers gave us the First Amendment which gives us the freedom of religion right? Notice also how its the FIRST amendment. There must have been something important about it to them.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Russ

      Oh there is a God and you follow that with we need Jesus in our hearts. I say quit the BS and show me this Jesus dude. I know that in my heart I'm a good person and show it all the time. I've looked and there's no Jesus in my heart and no magic man in the sky. Trust me atheist are not afraid to come face to face with anyone on judgement day. That's why we don't need religion and you do. Another big difference is we don't go door to door to try and sell "our" religion to you. Why is that? If your religion was so wonderful everyone would come to you so don't bother knocking on my door. See ya in the old hole in the ground or ashes in the wind. It's ashes to ashes and dust to dust, not to heaven or hell.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  18. BetterDeadThanFed

    The look on these atheists' faces when they come face-to-face on judgment day. I'd like to think that Jesus says to them, "What'ya think of me now?" Classic.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Pete

      I'm at a loss how this is "Classic"

      July 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Russ

      I would like to see your face when they drop your casket ($2,000) into the hole in the ground ($10,000) any you're laying there going, Jesus I'm waiting, where are you? This is all there is? (Priceless)

      July 7, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      @Russ ... to append to your comment ... "except you'll be dead"

      July 7, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  19. ktb515

    OK. This is ridiculous. I am an atheist myself and frankly, these people either lack brains or are just begging for attention. I get the desire for keeping religion out of politics, but wasting your time bickering about a street sign is just plain stupid.

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

      Agreed. Just because I am an Atheist doesn't mean I don't respect the traditions of our nation and understand what kind of society we are.

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

      Its your own kinds fault thats why bickering is going on !!!! and yes their is a God you people need help and you most important need Jesus Christ in your hearts May God Bless you all and may the amazing sign stay put !! AMEN

      July 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Rikitix

      +1 on that. Some people just lack the attention they crave for.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • RonFromNM

      ktb, as an atheist also, I agree w/ you. And Dina, people are individual w/ individual beliefs. "Our own kinds fault"? Maybe you're the one that needs help. Should I blame you for the acts of others who have the same religion as you?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • chett

      Dina's freaking retarded, god or no god she needs a few more points added to her iq...

      July 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • fatCat

      I'm an atheist too and this is just as bad protesting a christmas tree in a mall. Put your efforts toward something else. Wow. christians really make some silly posts though.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • chett

      By the way Dina, doesnt your kind follow the funerals of american soldiers around the country protesting gays? oh, wait you cant lump millions of people who have similar views to a few loose cannons.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  20. Chris

    Who cares if the sign mentions religions concepts?

    Did the sign cause someone physical pain?

    July 7, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Gods Child

      Apparently Chris it did cause some physical abuse to an aethist's eye. This is just plain sad.

      July 7, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Gods Child

      Apparently Chris it did cause some physical pain to an aethist's eye. This is just plain sad.

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

      Gods Child
      Ask yourself, if Heaven is real then reincarnation cannot function, right? So, isn't this sign really also telling Hindus and others that the government does not respect their afterlife beliefs?

      July 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • the real john

      free – anyone that believes in reincarnation doesnt have an 'afterlife belief', life is a continuation

      July 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • BR

      Who cares if you drink and drive. You haven't hurt anyone.........yet.

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

      the real john
      Still, it's a belief about what happens after you die, right? Heaven, as Christians understand it, and reincarnation are mutually exclusive. Supporting one really is like diminishing the other.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:29 am |
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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.