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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. Chris G

    I find the objection to the sign appalling, and I am a tried and true atheist. Whats next, remove all the crosses from Arlington? We should honor lost loved ones the way they would choose to be honored. And whether we choose to believe in Heaven or not, we must accept that its a powerful and meaningful belief that people hold dear.

    Atheism is the lowest common denominator religious philosophy, and as such we need to respect and accept and understand the views of other religions the same way we accept other cultures. Religious beliefs are, whether we atheists like it or not, a fundamental part of being human.

    America is built on tolerance, not censorship.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • Spiffy

      How can you agree with using public money to support a religious belief.

      You only tolerate religious people? You tolerate a baby crying on a plane. You tolerate heat during the summer and cold during the winter. You should accept people for their beliefs not tolerate them.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Erkman1999

      You can CHOOSE to be buried in Arlington...

      July 7, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Chris G

      When you accept something, you take it to be true, to believe in it. To tollerate is to allow for the existence, presence or practice.

      I accept that babies cry on planes, and I tolerate their presence.

      I accept that people are genetically religious, and I tolerate their views. Most of the time.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  2. Timothy Ryan Richardson

    Are you serious, this was to support the 9/11 tragedy. Please who ever created this sign DO NOT TAKE IT DOWN!! GOD BLESS You for doing this sign, may GOD direct your paths. You Atheist are getting ridiculous, it's time for us Christians to stand up to the Atheist and bring GOD back to America!!!!!! GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!!!!!!

    July 7, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Joseph

      By God's own standards he himself is not eligible to enter heaven.I guest you can murder anyone thou if you can forgive yourself.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Codepwned

      They're right. The government should not endorse a religious idealism. Don't get me wrong, if it was a private street where the signs weren't paid for by tax dollars, sure do whatever you want. Fact is there are laws in placed to stop things like this. Not everyone believes in religious dogma. It has no place in government. (Reference 2000 years of christian rule. Didn't turn out so well did it).

      Keep it separate, but up your own signs (legally) of course, but keep religious dogma out of it.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Erkman1999

      so basically you are saying that Iran has the perfect Government since they let religion be the main focus of their governing body. That doesn't seem American now does it?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  3. emanym

    Honor them anyway you want, but if you are using my tax dollars I ain't paying to reinforce your jiggy belief system.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • just me

      your tax dollars read "in God we trust" when are you going to protest that?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Exactly.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Spiffy

      My exactly was for you emanym. I totally disagree with the use of public funds to support a religious belief.

      I think we should remove "In God we trust" from money.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Michael

      Your tax dollars also pay for cemetery markers for veterans which may contain religious symbols. Are you going to campaign that we end this veterans benefit?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Erkman1999

      ...been arguing the "in God we trust", But the Religious right insist on ignoring the first amendment.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Erkman1999

      Tax dollars go to help those with burials not to make the religious symbols. That right is their because They gave their life and can be honored in a private cemetery. The Street sign is above and beyond that because it is not just their street. If the Street had only those 7 living on it, then it infringes on the rights of others...If you can't discern the differences in that then you are just basically saying you want things your way. Just like the Religious Right. Their way or the highway

      July 7, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Scott

      @JustME: One injustice at at time

      July 8, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  4. Dina

    Yes nathan I do !!!! christianity !!!!!!!!! in the last 50 yrs these anti GOD people came along and decided they dont need God anymore they are better , down with the creator of our universe !!!!! get over yourself their are so many amendments and people live each day to destroy each one... are you aware that these amendments are as long as 600 pages each ???? continue you reading ... you pertain an interest i think you would surprised yourself !!!!

    July 7, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • frank

      Reduce your caffeine intake. Please.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  5. albert

    Then there is the fact that the Bible does not teach all good people go to heaven and that all bad people go to hell. Those teachings are base on pagan traditions and Greek mythology (the soul transcends after death). This is false Christians spreading lies. For you so called Christians, show us from the Bible where God threatened the first human couple with eternal torment in hell if they sinned. Don't you think he would have made that clear to them?

    July 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • 1914

      Albert, you are absolutly right about what the Bible teaches. You are either a Jehovah's Witness or you should be.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • joshua

      When God created man, he gave us the will to do as we choose. We weren't created to go to hell when we were first created. Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge is what condemned man.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  6. Mike

    Atheists are terrible people. This isn't news. They take the worst possible qualities of religious zealots and make them their own. Imitation is the best form of flattery, right?

    July 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Tell me how Atheists are the worst people.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Chris G

      This is a pretty idiotic generalization. I could say all Catholics are child molesters, by that logic. Then again, I'm not a fool.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • joshua

      Mike truthfully Athiest aren't terrible people. I am a Christian and I know some Athiest. I will admit I believe they are blind to there own sins.
      Over all I am no better than they are, except forgivin by the blood of Christ Jesus.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Sara

      I'm not a terrible person. Generalizations like that do not help the situation. The sign doesn't bother me a bit, and if it honors those 7 firefighters that lost their lives then that is great. They should be honored. It's not about me. People who judge all athiests based on the actions of a few? That does bother me.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Rational

      I'm an atheist. I'm also a former Marine who served in the infantry in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Please, tell me how I'm terrible.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • fxjm

      the funniest thing about this is that the guy wanting to sue isnt call u all christians terrible ppl.. but u r callin all atheist terrible ppl.. what a hypocrite ..

      July 7, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • joshua

      @Rational, I serve in the Navy and I have been to Iraq. I understand what you are saying and in "mans eyes" you are a good person I am sure. God's standards is what defines if you go to heaven or hell, the ten commandment's is what you are judge against if you are not a believer.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  7. Jenny

    Since "secularism" is itself a form of beliefs – it should be considered a "religion."

    ...I do not agree with the secular views-won't my rights be violated as well?

    When we take God out of every reference in our society-we are making a statement that He does not exist.

    This non-reference influences our children just as much.

    Let us not allow the minority in this country to infratract their beliefs as well!

    Such hypocrites – do they not see their own audacity!

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

      Well, since there clearly is a God, that makes the athiests look pretty stupid.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Chris G

      "clearly!" Its just so clear!

      July 7, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Rational

      "Clearly," except that the vast majority of scientists don't believe.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Sara

      What does "infratract"mean exactly? As a parent, should I be concerned?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • fxjm

      i believe aliens exist.. am i bein religious too?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Erkman1999

      to believe this is to disagree with the First Amendment that our Nation is built on. Do you want a Religiously run government or do you want a free government? Religious Government = Iran. Look at ALL the freedom those citizens have because of their religious belief. You don't have to take God out of Society, That in itself is persecution. No one wants that, we just want our beliefs respected and not have your beliefs shoved in our face.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  8. DAVID

    How about we ask the families what they believe and if they happen to be christian or dont mind the sign then they get it. It shouldnt be about what everyone else believes it should be what they held close in their heart. Afterall they were the ones that were so thoughtfull of everyone else and lost their life over it, we should be thoughtful of them and their families.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  9. Lee

    As an athiest I find the sign somewhat foolish rather than religious. This group is what gives the rest of us athiests a bad name. Oh. and to Allahisgay, religion did not kill those 7 people, hateful fanatics did.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  10. max

    Praying for all the poor atheists & non-believers in this world. You are deceived. Turn to Jesus Christ while you can. God is right in front of you every minute of every day. Whatever you see is from Him. He gave you free will to find your way to Him or rail against. Please give the Bible a chance.

    "I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known." Isa. 42:16

    "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness."
    ~ John 12:46

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

      You believe in some imaginary being in the sky, and we are the crazy ones?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Toby

      If I believe in Jesus' divinity, then I am making a blasphemous statement to the Muslims who see Jesus only as a prophet (to say nothing of the Jews who do not recognize him as any Messiah at all). You see, our Founding Fathers knew full well that the only way to protect a plurality of religious beliefs and ideas was to make certain that government did not endorse religion at all. What if our elected leaders suddenly thought that Islam was the "True" religion and Americans everywhere suddenly started gravitating toward Islam? Would the fact that YOU are now a minority justify them naming the street Mohammed Way? See what I'm getting at here? Your protection for your religious freedom is the separation of government from religious affairs-the very idea you are fighting against! Peace.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Scott

      Have him regrow the limb of an amputee and he will get my undevided attension

      July 8, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  11. JP

    so they don't want us to force our beliefs down their throats but they're ready to go to court to force their non-beliefs down our throats....the irony in this article is stupifying

    July 7, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Dee

      I couldn't have said it better!

      July 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Rational

      I don't see "Atheist Blvd" or "God Doesn't Exist Rd" signs anywhere, do you?

      Who is trying to force their beliefs down your throat? Have you ever had atheists come to your door? Do you see "In No God We Trust" on currency anywhere?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Chris G

      Lots of streets and towns are named Darwin, and thinkers like him are all that matter to atheists. Anyway, JP is right.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Rational

      Ha! Darwin was a scientist, not a religious figure.

      It's funny how you don't seem to mind using the scientific advances that come from such atheists. (I hope you don't use Microsoft, as Bill Gates is an atheist.)

      July 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Chris G

      Atheist or not, we can agree Jesus was a radical thinker.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  12. Ray

    What a joke....I am not a christain, jew or muslim BUT I think it is really flipin stupid that these Atheists ( who are believers in something called nothing) have nothing better to do than infringe on other peoples beliefs....let them be and they should relax in your own feelings of belief.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  13. richard101

    there's quite a few place names throughout America that refer to heaven, hell and the devil. Should we change them all? Or should we just kind of agree that religion is mostly a metaphor and a fairly common language. Perhaps we have more pressing problems?

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

      Thank you.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  14. Steven Capsuto

    Governments should not have an official stance on metaphysical issues, period. The wording of the sign is clearly inappropriate. Whether it's worth raising a fuss about this particular incident (among so many more egregious ones) is less clear to me

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

      How exactly is it inappropriate? Is calling Christmas inappropriate now because 'Christ' is part of the word. Should my sister change her name from Christine? OMG – What if there is a street called Christine?!!! lol The word Heaven is hardly offensive and not a curse word. Pitiful.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Rational

      @Dee

      You apparently don't understand the difference between the personal freedom to worship as you please and government involvement in religion. Pitiful.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  15. freddy j

    Its really crazy that one Atheist can assist in changing a law or ordience, but a whole city or state can not move on simple issues such as..........you name it. what a world we live in.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  16. Gavin Ford

    Ah, the myth-believers. Making sane and rational people laugh on a daily basis.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • the real john

      Trust me, the myth you believe in is a lot more comical

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

      @John

      More comical than a virgin birth, a talking snake, and dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • the real john

      rational. yea, even more comical than that. we could start with human life coming from nothing. which is about the funniest thing ive ever heard from a group that demands proof for everything, yet have never seen proof of anything arising from nothing. that hilarious.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Rational

      You're right. Something can't arise from nothing.

      So where did God come from?

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

      oh, and turtles have shells cuz they kept getting eaten! and our toes used to be feathers! oh and leopard spots magically grew because their DNA just knew, deep down inside, it was the right thing to do to protect them and help them stalk prey!

      July 7, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • the real john

      ask god, not me. i dont proclaim to understand how the universe or life started. and long giraffe necks from trying to eat trees. and if i got a tattoo of a smiley face and my son and his son, one day they would just be born with smiley faces! thats your evolution.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Chris G

      LOL John, you're right about everything except for our toes being feathers! But your stupidity has not gone unnoticed.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Rational

      Oh look, evolutionary strawmen. What a surprise!

      Apply that same smart alec representation of evolution to anything else in science: "Oh so this magical, invisible force called "gravity" mysteriously keeps us from flying off the Earth which is (ha!) ROUND?! Oh yeah, that makes sense!"

      Just becuase you don't understand a theory doesn't mean it isn't valid. And even if the theory of evolution were entirely wrong, that doesn't make "God did it" the truth by default (much less your particular version of God).

      July 7, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Chris G

      "ask god, not me. i dont proclaim to understand how the universe or life started."

      Then smart people actually figure it out, you refuse to listen to the answer because you are too stupid and narrow minded to listen!

      How exactly does one "ask god" this question anyway? Got his telephone number? I'm sure there are a lot of other things people would want to "ask god", such as why did he INVENT cancer?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Rational

      It's funny how John keeps arguing against Lamarckian evolution.

      John, Darwin beat you to the punch over 150 years ago!

      July 7, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • fxjm

      john.. im sure u thinkin that life came from nothing doesnt make any sense.. however i wonder where ur god came from.. and btw.. u must be a believer.. since u really dont wonder why, how, when, etc.,things exist ... thats why u didnt even bother to check science theories and find out that there is an explanation as of how life came to be.. and if a rock over time can change its properties and become a different thing.. why not biological creatures?.. im sure this is too much for u to digest.. but maybe one day ull get it..

      July 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  17. angel

    It's amazing how atheist want to say we push Christianity on them. If they just look in the mirror they are pushing atheism on Christians. U saying there is no God is equal to us saying there is one. If you want equality. Do what you choose believe how you believe and let Christians do the same. Everyone hollering Christians are hypocrites so are atheist. We can't publicize our beliefs but you can publicize yours. We can't worship and show our love for him but you can show your unbelief and disrespect. Before you respond please do what you ask us to do and look at all sides. You don't have to accept our beliefs and we do not have to hide our beliefs to pamper this unruly country that (yes I believe) has just went downhill since removing Jesus from the public and trying to hide him behind closed doors.

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

      Who says you can't speak your beliefs? Who's trying to stop you from worshiping? Nobody!

      You'd have a point if they were trying to change the name of the street to "God Doesn't Exist Way" or "Atheism Blvd," but they're not.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • the real john

      true athiests wouldnt have even noticed the sign.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Lee

      You can't publicize your beliefes? you can't worship and show your love for him? Who's stopping you? Publicize all you want, worship all you want, just don't involve the government. When the goverment gets involved in religion we all lose and it's only when the government is involved that athiests generally get involved. You want to preach on the strees be my guest, you want to pray from the top of the Empire State building, be my guest, none of us gives a hoot.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Toby

      Atheism is simply the lack of belief in gods or the supernatural because there is no empirical evidence in our natural world for these beliefs. So what you are saying is that certain people are discouraging you from believing things that have no justifiable evidence for their existence. Is this about right?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Dee

      Apparently, someone give a hoot, Lee. Big babies, if you ask me.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Rational

      @Dee

      So what does that make you, as you complain about atheists?

      Nobody is trying to keep Christians from worshiping; they are just trying to keep it out of government.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  18. iRoll

    Pick your battles, dude.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  19. anonymous zealot

    they should be a to keep the sighn up you can put whatever name you want on it its called freedom of religion ohwe i guess da sighn must be considered public property thats why

    July 7, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  20. Allahisgay

    Religion killed those 7 people – so might as well rub their noses right in it with another dose of the same. Leave the sign as a testimony to American stupidity.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • the real john

      wow, 'rubbing the dead firemens noses in it'.. what wonderful world you must live in. you are the most vile of the haters i have ever come across.. all in one chunk you hate gays, hate god, hate america, and hate the fallen firefighters.

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

      @John

      He didn't say anything about gays, it sounds like he doesn't believe in God, and what makes you say he hates America and firefighters? You're making all of that up!

      Do you always break the 9th Commandment for God?

      July 7, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Rational

      OK, just noticed "Allah is gay." More immature than hateful.

      It's funny how atheists are always accused of being hateful. (We're not the ones telling you you're going to burn for eternity.)

      July 7, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Dee

      Please exercise your freedom to leave 'stupid' America, Allahisgay.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Toby

      As offensive as your comment may appear to some, it is right on the money. If those 19 hijackers did NOT believe that they were going to be immediately "raptured" to some unknown (unseen, unprovable) paradise, then the Twin Towers would STILL be there and those who lost their lives on September 11th would likely still be with us. Unjustified belief in nonsense is what motivated the killing on that awful day. Peace.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Rational

      @Dee

      Please exercise your freedom to leave secular America.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • the real john

      if i killed in the name of athiesm would it make athiests murderers? i dont understand how someone flying a plane into a tower in the name of god means thats what god wanted. you people twist the truth like theres no tomorrow, as long as it suits your needs, which makes you just another religious group. Jesus hated religion for a reason.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Chris G

      Hey John, aren't you the one thats too stupid to understand evolution? You don't because rejecting it suits your religious needs, which just makes you something outside of a religious group – you are a religious idiot.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • fxjm

      real john .. religion : christianity during hundreds of years massmurdered millions.. muslims: up until today they kill their own ppl based on their believes...

      now...

      atheists..: ........................................................................................ not 1 murder in the name of atheism ..

      July 7, 2011 at 8:30 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.