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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. Jimbo

    Atheists are always screaming for their freedom of speech. Well here is somebody's freedom of speech and now all of the sudden, Atheists are against freedom of speech. Just shut up and crawl back into your hole and leave the sign alone.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  2. John

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]
    )

    July 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  3. Ryan

    Sheridan in California
    Nicely put

    July 7, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  4. Jersey

    As a person who is reasonably openminded & truly enjoys thoughtful discussions with folks who believe differently than I do (sometimes these even lead to a change in my pov, gasp!), I just can't fathom why some folks waste so much energy being offended left & right by "signs" of another point of view!
    I am confident in my beliefs, I am confident they will evolve & change as I grow, and I am confident that I am not always right in everything I believe... but it's right for me. So why waste time bristling over every monument, relic, sign etc in my public world that speaks of another's belief? It's all just a guessing game anyway, my friend...

    July 7, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Ed

      So well said. Thank you.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Colorado

      Jersey it was very nice to see a well spoken, intelligent response to this. Unfortunately, responses to this sort of issue are usually emotional rants, thank you for a taking the high road. I feel exactly the same way.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Azathoth

      I'd be offended by having to pay for it through my taxes. As well as various other implications this has.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Jersey

      In modern day American language "Heaven" is a general, English word for a concept embraced by many different religions, cultures & individuals. For some it's an almost mythical ideology.
      So what on earth is wrong with a quaint, rhyming memorial on a public sreet sign that brings to mind images of our public fallen heroes basking in the rewards of whatever beautiful idea of an afterlife they may have held in their hearts in life?

      July 7, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  5. Ed

    Atheists are picking this as the target du joir? Wasted effort.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  6. Fox

    I wish liberals would spend as much time and energy attacking Islam.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • mickey1313

      And i do attack all thiests for being stupid. Stop thinking you have the right to preech to me. Read the 1st amendment, it clearly says you have the right to practace and believe what you want, not publicaly flaunt and prostalitize, that is not a protected right. And if you say free speach covers your right to prostalitize, then it also covers an athiests right to say that ALL RELIGOUS PERSONS ARE F-ING STUPID!!!

      July 7, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Robin Bray

      Why? Jesus is the biggest lie of all time. Followed by suckers.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  7. Sheridan in California

    Well ... well ..well ... I see the nutty atheists are @ it once again ... Why do you people think the world & government is imploding in such a negative way ... ??? Because atheist idiots labor & succeed in taking prayer out of schools, etc etc & are ALWAYS on the bandwagon crusading to get rid of all mention of God ... All atheists will be in hell, period. Our world is deteriorating because we have allowed these things to transpire ... Don't you get it ??? ... I am ashamed of the beautiful world GOD created for us & we, HIS people are destroying it by leaps & bounds. When it's time for you atheists to leave the physical world, wish I could be around to witness the looks on all your faces when you stand before our one & only GOD ...

    July 7, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • mickey1313

      There is no god, anyone who believes in something without prrof is a morron, that is the definition, belif with no proof is ignorance, not faith. And the nation is in its problem today because of a 1/2 dozen religous wars we have sparked since the 90's.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Tony

      Honestly, I don't see how anyone believing in an invisible person can be taken seriously either, so let's let up on the attacks that people that don't believe in that are nuts. The majority of people used to believe in multiple gods before we declared them nuts. The world is not up in arms for lack of religion. It's people abusing secular power. Businessmen taking advantage of their wealth and position. Politicians manipulating the people. Nutjobs using religion as an excuse for their extremism.

      No religion will solve the problem. It's about people thinking of other people and helping each other as a whole. While religions teach that, they are also about control as far as the heads of the organization.

      I don't believe there is a God. However, everyone should believe whatever they believe, even if I think it's silly. However, this is trivial, but I see their point. I bet you the city billed for that, and it came out of everyone's taxes, not just Christians. I would love a better sign for them honestly, more like what they proposed. Would I fight it there, no, there are better battles.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  8. Tiny Tim

    Since when did America become secular nation. It's a Christian nation. Always has been Always will be. Don't like it...GET OUT!!!

    July 7, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Robin Bray

      You are beyond stupid. The U.S. has always been a secular nation. Read some history and a few of our nation's laws sometime.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • John

      Robin I think you need to do some reading of your own. However, stay away from school text books about history and try reading some of the original source materials like at the Library of Congress. I think you'll find some interesting facts that are not in history books but are in the summary of our Congressional meetings. Things like, our capital building has been used to hold church services and our lawmakers actually said prayers before the start of sessions. Things like this that seem to not make it into the history books but I think do a pretty good job illustrating that our founders did not say we should have NO religion, rather freedom to express all religions. The first amendment does not say no relgion, but no establishment of religion by the state. Finally, look at our laws again. They bear striking resemblence to some laws I know in the Bible.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  9. Shimpainai

    I'm an atheist but it seems odd to me to be upset by this sign. It would be like going after street names like Santa Claus Lane or Leprechan Way. There are a lot of fantasy's people name streets after and we're okay with it. The fantasy that seven dead firemen are feasting in mansions in the sky seems harmless enough. I don't understand the fervor here. I wouldn't jump on this band wagon just yet. I might have a problem with Jesus Christ Avenue unless they also had an avenue in reference to Thor, Zeus, Buddah and Mohammed and call the neighborhood a "religious" neighborhood.

    Seven in Heaven? It doesn't sound radical enough for me to be upset.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • mickey1313

      first off, if even 1 of them was agnostic or athiest then it is flagrant disrespect to there heroic memories, and stastically, if you look at the 10 comandments, and look at every americans lives, there is no way you will find 7 like people who will make it to heaven, most christians on this blog have posted hell worthy phrases so you are all hypocrites.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  10. Sybaris

    Isn't it funny how the believers assume all 7 went to their heaven. Such a nice delusion to live with.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • Lycidas

      It's called hope. But if you feel they went nowhere...then that is your belief.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Robin Bray

      Everyone who died on 9/11 was not a hero of a great person.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  11. grvol

    I'm an athiest from Tn. These athiests in NY are apparently like most unhappy people up there...miserable actvist morons. Who gives a rats azz about a sign. I'm surrounded here by churches. And I love and respect them all and all who attend. But.. this is TN not a sad place with hateful liberals like NewYork.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • shinden

      I doubt you are an athiest. I think you are one of those people who has an imaginary friend in the sky. If you were a true athiest you would stand on the principle of Separation of Church and State.

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

      What about separation of state and atheist? Get out of my backyard dude.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • sportreform

      I believe in the Seperation of Church and Children

      July 7, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • mickey1313

      way more TN racests christians have lynched people then "hateful liberals" in NY, so as i say to all thiests STFUYFM

      July 7, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  12. Jersey

    These atheists are just as bad as the Christians they are so determined to triumph over ... they shove their beliefs in everyone one else's face, they just can't *stand* for a person to think differently than they do.

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

      No, it's more that we don't approve of local governments utilizing tax dollars to promote religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Wesley B

      Sybaris is right.

      No atheist I know desires to "shove their beliefs in everyone one else's face." They only desire a 100% neutral government. They do not seek to "triumph" over religion, but rather to stop public tax dollars being spent on it. No more, no less.

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

      hmmm, they're just like millions and millions of Christians, Muslims, and persons of other faiths then, aren't they?

      July 7, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • mickey1313

      not so at all, It is an issuse of the illigal utalization of tax monies to suport the christian mythology.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Jimbo

      @Sybaris.....The local govt isn't using tax dollars to promote Christianity. It is just a sign to remember the fallen. So is the phrase "In God We Trust" on our money the same promotion? I'm sure you don't complain when your bank gives you our currency with that phrase on it. If you honestly believe it is wrong, stop taking our governments money.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Jersey

      It's not the gov't supporting a religion in this case, this is a memorial. I wonder if any of these intolerant people 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 8:49 pm |
    • Jersey

      Wesley, I certainly don't think that all Atheists are the same as this "in-your-face" selection ... nor Christians, or any other religious group. I have many Atheist friends & I'd like to believe that I have better taste in friends than that. The people I'm referring to are those who insult others for their spirituality, plaster gigantic signs on buses that try to *convince* others to disregard any deity they may follow & love, and yes ... those who flip out and are terribly offended by a memorial street sign.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  13. DrDiomedes

    In Indiana, citizens can get free vanity plates which state "In God We Trust" (these are NOT the state's default plates) but one must pay for other personalized plates. This is state sanctioned discrimination against not just atheists and the irreligious, but polytheists as well. As an atheist, this make me feel that the state views me as an inferior citizen. Yet I work for a defense company to ensure our defense and intelligence communities are able to defend these same people who subvert me ...It all seems very odd to me:(

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

      A stinking license plate bothers you? I imagine you do feel inferior but it's not because of a license plate – it's your small-mindedness.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Fox

      You're over thinking it there Dr. I'm sure there is a religion-free license plate available to you as an atheist in Indiana. So you don't have to put any of that God stuff on your car.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • mickey1313

      That is why it is sad for anyone with an iq over 25 to live in a red state.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      Its the principle. My tax dollars going toward a plate that discriminates against me..Hmm... I guess I am over-reacting. I have a problem with them being FREE. And BTW, there are NO other vanity plates for FREE in Indiana. If there were a free plate that says "In God you trust, but not me" I would be all over that. Would you be willing to pay out of your pocket for me to have that? Because I would really appreciate it.

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

      @mickey1313 ... true dat; though IN did vote Obama last election.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      @txrbt ... I agree with you, 'tis a "stinking plate"

      July 7, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • In God We Trust Indiana

      DrD. I think you need to check your facts about other free vanity plates in Indiana. And I have to pay Excise Tax just like you do, so my In God We Trust Plate is NOT being paid by you. And please review the 1st Amendment. You and others like you forget the "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". Yeah, that part applies to my license plate that I PAY FOR. Not you. You cannot prohibit my free exercise of MY religion.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      @ In God You Trust Indiana - I just renewed my plates. The only ones which did not cost extra were the standard plate and the In God We Trust plate. I guess I wrong about the taxes - thanks for course correction. And I wasn't arguing the Bill of Rights, anyway. So I'm good there. So I guess your point is that I have to pay extra for vanity plates unless I believe in God. Thanks for clarification.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • In God We Trust Indiana

      And apparently you are not a Veteran either.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      @In God You Trust Indiana. I am not. That is why I cannot get that one. The only ones for ME that are of no extra cost are the Standard Plate and the In God We Trust plate. That is why it is religiously discriminatory.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  14. AL

    Jacob
    "just won't have the non believers"

    Thank god. Sounds boring as hell.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |

    Is 'HELL' a christian concept??????

    July 7, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      "Hell" is a product of the collective unconsciousness, that's why many cultures share the notion. Quite interesting actually ...

      July 7, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  15. Freethinker

    Bible thumpers and atheists are both fanatics and push their beleifs on others.

    6000 religions on the planet and everyone thinks they are right.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • mickey1313

      6000 religons and only one with a shred of proof evidance or anything other then simple belief and that is staunch athistism.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  16. Chris2

    Sorry the sign isn't politically correct enough for you, militant atheists.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  17. Ryan

    I have an alternate that combines religion and non-religion (atheist)
    sign should read:
    "three in heaven, four are willows down the street"

    July 7, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  18. gunner st. james

    i'm an atheist, but this is absolutely ridiculous! who gives a care? mr. bronstein is an intolerant fascist

    July 7, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  19. Christy

    Get off your high horse...such a DUMB thing to be mad about!

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

      If it said "Lucifer Lane" what do you think the reaction would be?

      July 7, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Clyde M

      @ Sybaris:

      Or "Allah is the One True (Park)Way." The Christians would be up in arms!

      July 7, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Ed

      Sybaris, all your responses are poor attempts of slamming others. You are not doing true Atheists any good. Please stop.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Sybaris

      @ Ed

      You still read them

      July 7, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  20. Rusty

    Atheists are just as intolerant as religious fundamentalists.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Ryan

      Uhhh, no they aren't.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • Michael

      The difference is the religious fundamentalists get to have their way.

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

      This is no way infringes on the rights of atheists. Nothing to see here folks – keep moving.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • DrDiomedes

      nope ... we just want to be left alone.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • shinden

      Athiest don't shoot doctors, blow up womens clinics or marry 14 year olds, thanks Warren Jeffs. Thanks I will side with the Athiests on this one.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Free Thinker Seeking Reason

      @ Rusty
      You definitely do not seem to understand the debate. This is not a question of tolerance, it is a question of using taxpayer dollars to endorse, promote, and disseminate religious supersti-tion.

      @ Fox
      The tyranny of the majority does not make it right. There is plenty to see here and discuss, starting with people's dismissive atti-tudes that their religion reigns supreme and to heck with everyone else's (or lack of belief). If this sign said something anti-theist, the believers would be all flustered over it, and usually are. The point is that the government is not supposed to be picking sides on these theocratic debates, most especially using taxpayer dollars. What part of that is unclear?

      July 7, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • mickey1313

      says the christian zelot

      July 7, 2011 at 8:44 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.