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. BobbyB

    It's JUST a STREETSIGN. Who cares what it's called, religious or NOT...I don't see it causing any REAL problems.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Not when it is tax payers who are paying for it. The government in this case is favoring a religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Leslie

      And I would contend that if nothing is displayed it is favoring non-religion - so I want to protest. Give it a rest and find something worth fighting over - we have many more problems in this country that we need to focus on. You are always free to vote with your feet and go to a place where your beliefs are better supported if this truly bothers you and keeps you up at night.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Free Thinker Seeking Reason

      The sign contributes to the twisted mentality that it is okay for the majority will of the people to inflict their religious beliefs using taxpayer dollars on the minority of non-believers. That is NOT the way that the United States was founded as a SECULAR nation and we are NOT going to stand for it, so get used to it. If you want to live in a theocracy, there are a number in the middle east to choose from.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Ryan

      It's a sign, it probably cost a couple dollars. Big. Deal. I'm an Atheist and I don't give a damn about a street sign. When I get those stupid pamphlets in the mail with Jesus looking like Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees in a robe I don't get mad, I laugh and toss em in the trash. If there is one thing as obnoxious as religious nuts, it's smug and hyperbolic Atheists. I would like to assume they would be able to detect the irony in their dogma. As Montaigne said "Assertion and dogmatism are positive signs of stupidity"; this goes for both sides.

      This isn't shoving religion down your throat, it's a little street sign for dead firemen.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  2. John

    Derp – I think you better go back and read some of our history again and not through text books in schools but the original sources themselves. Check out the Congressional notes in the Library of Congress in some of our first Congressional sessions. Many times our founders (folks who had profound influence in the development of this nation) had prayer sessions. In fact, the first home of the Congress actually doubled as a church for Sunday services. If our founders intented this to be a nation without religion, not sure how they would allow this collusion between church and state to happen, buth they did, which tends to make me believe that they were only talking about the state sponsering or starting a religion. I think the real point is that we are all free to express our relgious beliefs. Christians should be able to put us signs they same way Athiests, Muslims, etc should. Stop trying to keep folks from expressing their religous beliefs and allow the freedoms we all are guaranteed. Athiest can post sign saying what they want somewhere else.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Leslie

      Agreed – it's freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Spiffy

      "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"

      July 7, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • John

      Well said Spiffy......and the key word being establishment. Allowing a religion to express itself does not amount to an establishment of religion. So therefore, there is no violation of law in what we have hear, being a sign placed on a street!

      July 7, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Umm... yes this sign supports a particular belief of multiple established religions.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  3. Aiki

    The fact of the matter is Atheist would rather believe in an evolutionary process. Sadly they are misguided by people like Richard Dawkins who btw couldn't answer this simple question from a creationist to prove evolution: "Can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?". He must have blinked 30 times with no real answer because he was completely clueless, go find it on youtube. Most awkward silence i ever seen in my life LOL. Matter of fact look up "Is Richard Dawkins Really Stumped? The Truth- In His Own Words".

    Evolution has always been a "belief" (religion) not a fact.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • EH

      "Evolution has always been a belief". No, I'm sorry would you like to try again? Evolution is a fact, we have millions of years of fossil records to prove it.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • APF

      and bible is "fact"? Sadly atheists are not quite as misled as you are

      July 7, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • onlyusernameleft

      You're wrong:

      "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

      July 7, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • the real john

      it truly scares me how many people believe evolution as fact. just wait until 50 years when scientists come up with a new theory, then youll be talking about "remember 50 years ago when they evolution in schools". it is the most faulty and broken theory i have ever seen and soooo many people bought it. its a religion unto itself. frightening beyond words. defended blindly over and over and over again.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Nonimus

      There is an abundance of support for the scientific Theory of Evolution,
      from fossils like, Ambuloceteus, Tiktallik, and Archeoptrix,
      to Biochemicial evidence like Cytochrome-C
      to Biodiversity evidenced like marsupials
      to genetic evidence like Human Chromosome 2

      July 7, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Nonimus

      <- biodiversity, should be biogeography

      July 7, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Aiki

      Go to drdino.com & look at debate #18 under videos, you'll soon see the evolutionary "belief" put on the spot. Better yet if anyone wants to take a stab at the questions in the video, feel free. I'm very open minded 😉

      July 7, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Just go to YouTube and search for "debunk Kent Hovind" and you'll find all the responses you want.
      A counter challenge for you, read a Biology text book and answer all the questions in it. After that try Geology, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, and all the other sciences that Theory of Evolution is built upon.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Spiffy

      The video you are referring to has been proven to be a fake.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  4. Jouelle

    Another example of athiests unreasonable demands. "I don't want to so you can't."

    July 7, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Nonimus

      So, you would rather the government support certain religions?
      How about a tax to support the weekly goat sacrifice to Baal?
      Or, perhaps printing Allahu Akbar on the next NASA rocket?

      July 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  5. Jersey

    "Bronstein calls the sign a violation of the separation of church and state, arguing that the word “heaven” is a clear reference to Christianity."
    No, it's not. "Heaven" is a general, English word for a concept embraced by many different religions, cultures & individuals. I wonder if any of these fools with nothing better to do other than to rally against a street sign have even considered the very people this sign was put in place to memorialize? What were the fallen heroes' beliefs?

    July 7, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  6. DEMulemom

    Why not just practice tolerance. A sign is not a big deal. Live and let live. I can never understand why some are so insistent on proving a point. Sigh...

    July 7, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  7. Ground Keeper

    The universe is in complete order. The correction of error is the error of correction. Meaning, our DNA structure of coded instructions are there to correct an error that will never happen, because of order, if not, this would be a paradox. Call it God call it Void, call it what you will, but one thing is for sure, you can not and will not change this order. But you can become your own paradox, like the chicken and the egg, or the whip-tail lizards.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  8. Melissa

    One major question: Was it put up with public funds? If it was put up with public funds than there is an issue since the government is suppose to have no religion. Now if it was put up with funds by the families or a commemoration group than the dude need to shut up. I agree with an earlier comment about you have to pick your battles and there are bigger fights. You shouldn't go to court with a case that is on shaky ground. If you set a losing precedent, than you are hurting a real freedom fighter down the road.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Leslie

      So you might want to start having the government quit paying for religious symbols on headstones at Arlington National Cemetery and veteran cemetery markers all over the country. That would include the atheism symbol put on them as well. Oh yeah – and don't forget to make sure we have no chaplains in the military service too.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  9. glu

    These turds have nothing better to do, thats the sad part.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  10. Fig1024

    I am an atheist and I think that sign is perfectly fine. I don't see any reason to make a big deal out of something this silly. At least, I assume atheists tend to be more reasonable people.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  11. Geoff

    We're suppossed to be a pluralistic and tolerant nation rather than a people who only recognizes a purely secular way of life. The public and the nation is enriched when we recognize this diversity. That this atheist group wants to strip the public sphere of any and all religious references, thus allowing onto the public scene only what it approves, is an attack on pluralism and exhibits a totaltarian impulse on their part. If acknowledging that we live in a pluralistic world where some people wish to live and display their faith is shoving religion down someone's throat, then we have truly entered into a twisted world that has no resemblance to what the forefathers wished or what America was built upon.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Pluralism is good, but government support of a particular faith or belief, i.e. heaven, only supports that belief, not pluralism. Faith in public spaces is fine, but not in government spaces. If these people want to put up a memorial on private property, great, more power to them. But using government owned spaces implies government endorsement and should not be allowed or encouraged.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  12. Spiffy

    Why should we fund religious beliefs with public money?

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

      Can't swear to it, but their families are probably taxpayers; the 7 who died were, for sure. I'm sure between them all, they've paid enough taxes to pay for the sign. If you find otherwise, contact me – I'll be glad to pay for it so that these brave souls can be honored publicly.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Spiffy

      The signs are still public domain. And there are atheist taxpayers too. If you really want to pay for a street sign and send it to these people sure but don't name a public street after a fictional place in your religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I've paid more than enough taxes to pay for a sign. Can I put "God is a lie" on mine?

      July 7, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Leslie

      It would appear from the picture it is an honorary street name – the real name being Richards St. I'm aware atheists are taxpayers too – the point is that so were they and so are their families – i.e., the atheists don't have a corner on the market of tax purchased items. I don't happen to like paying for atheist symbols on headstones for veterans, but I haven't felt the need to try to force my belief on those who choose not to believe as I do. I figure it's a give and take.

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

      Why do we who believe in GOD have to give up what we Believe you because people like you don't. There is a thing called FREEDOM OF RELIGION. My family can't choose to pray over our meal in public or have a street sign that has the word Heaven on it cause people like you don't like it. Well you know what I think JUDGE YE NOT YE BE JUDGED. What are you going to do next want us to take down a Christian Flag out of our yard if you live beside us because you don't like the flag.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Leslie

      Nonimus – sure - just as soon as you give your life doing something seen as honorable, I have no objection to my tax dollars going toward an honorary sign 'pointing' (for lack of a better description) to the area where you gave your life. But it would not say anything about God – just as this sign doesn't. It could say something like "Turned to dust w/no hope for anything else Blvd".

      July 7, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Spiffy

      It is public property. It is favoring a certain belief. Burial is completely different then naming a street. Most burials or usually a religious ceremony as opposed to a street.

      @Marie Why do Christians force their beliefs on Atheists ie: gay marriage, restrictions on abortion, public nativities. No I'm not going to tell you can't pray in public. As long as it isn't at a government sponsored event sure go ahead. I wasn't aware there was a Christian flag.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Nonimus

      The very term, "Heaven," assumes certain theological beliefs.
      But would "Nonimus, not in Heaven or Hell, because they don't exist, just like everyone else" be better for you?

      July 8, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  13. Bryan Law

    I never thought Atheists were so threatened by God that they would argue over a street sign. God bless America.

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

      "God bless America."

      When exactly is that going to start? The request has been made for a long time.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Bryan Law

      In God We Trust.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • JustMe

      No, we are not threatened by a fictional character. We are concerned about the religious elements of our country who would push their believes on others. To use public funds to promote a religious premise is the problem. History has shown that these religious types are not above resorting to violence. The concern is give them an inch and they will take a mile and plow down your house in the process.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • Ryan

      You're being hyperbolic.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • Azathoth

      Hyperbolic possibly, but fairly dead on.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  14. Jacob

    As an atheist, I don't care about the reference to Heaven. I do care that they would find such a lame name for a street and pretend it pays tribute to the fallen.

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

    It's okay if the non believers take away our signs, phrases, objects etc. Remember, this is not our home. Heaven will be our home and waits for us... just won't have the non believers there. So let them have the sign, and let's just wait for our home that God is preparing for his children. Everything seems so trivial here anyway.

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

      "just won't have the non believers"

      Thank god. Sounds boring as hell.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • EH

      Is this why you guys treat the planet so terribly? It's not your home, so just trash it! Good thinking!!

      July 7, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • tonya

      I am a Christian and a Veteran so I do not TRASH our country. I love the LORD and I do what I can to be the best I can be. I look at a bigger picture and do not worry about the trivial things here.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  16. YY

    This is the kind of stupid that allows the valid separation of church and state arguments to be dismissed in the same boat. This is not an assault or imposition. if the firefighters were all christian then fine. There are worse crimes of the separation of church and state than saying 7 victims of terrorism are in heaven. Use some common sense will ya?

    July 7, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  17. BobbyB

    To all you who insist this is Christianity shoving it's beleifs down your throat, i've seen plenty of anti religious billboards and signs as well. And THAT's not shoving beleifs down people's throats now, is it? I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but don't be hypocritical..every group does it.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  18. Jeses

    I believe in the easter bunny, but no way is there a santa clause – I dont buy that at all!!!

    July 7, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  19. Roxanne

    As an atheist, I beg that the New York City atheist group drops their protest. As long as the group that posted the sign doesn't use TAX PAYER money, I don't mind seeing a religious reference. I also don't see how any mention of "heaven" implies christianity! These poor families lost loved ones and deserve the right to grieve for them, to honor them, and to remember them in whatever way they need to.

    We need to set an example rather than act as they do. We shouldn't force our beliefs down peoples throats. We need to be tolerant of other people's beliefs, and to demonstrate humility and charity.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Leslie

      Roxanne – thank you for your reasonable posting.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Chris G

      Count me in as an atheist in agreement. 100%.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  20. Steve

    If the Atheists can't put a "There is No God Avenue" sign up, then Christians can't put a "Seven in Heaven Way" sign up.

    Simple as that.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • BobbyB

      There's plenty of billboards that say that.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • hank

      Excuse me Steve, before I say anything I am going to take a deep breath and remember that you are most likely a miserable human who tries to find the negative in anything. That being said, I would like to reiterate the fact that I myself am not religious but think your argument is just one hundred percent heartless. This sign was made to commemorate and honor seven people that risked their lives to save people that they don't even know, they would even have attempted to save you, god forbid you had been in this tragedy. This sign isn't telling people to go to church it is honoring these brave individuals. Your "There is no god avenue" sign would commemorate what? and for the sake of argument your analogy would actually have made the sign "There is a God" avenue and not what it is. So go home and remind yourself that this was done for the families, if you don't like the sign don't look at it, also reevaluate your morals.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Derek

      I find it interesting that the group wants to remove all signs of religion through out the city and the nation, only down side to that is by doing so it would in turn be a rejection of religion and the support of the religion of Atheisim so by denying that relgion exists you simply support someone elses beliefs, hmmmm..... Besides the fact that if a Atheist actually wanted to practice the full extent of what that means he would be a loveless, atomitiom, look it up and understand the full meaning of what it entails not just what they say it consists of.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Ryan

      Atheism isn't a "practice", it is merely the rejection of the idea of gods. Where you get your facts I don't know. I don't hate religion..I in fact feel more negatively about mayonnaise than I do about the idea of religion. I don't have a problem with your religion, and you cannot "deny that religion exists". I have a problem with your ignorance about things you choose to comment on though.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
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