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. RStormsinger

    I beg to differ with the atheists interpretation of the word "heaven." At one point in history, yes, it was used in a strictly religious sense. However, that was so long ago that to use it as an excuse to bring suit is laughable. "Heaven," "heavenly" and all other versions of the word are commonly used as a non-religious reference to describe almost anything that makes the person/people extremely happy. Can we grow up now? Will the atheists please find something worth pitching a hissy fit over?

    July 8, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  2. John

    Deckard I never said they are not in the Bible. What I said was that we are not ordered to do those things that you said. That was a specific message for a specific people. When you read the Bible you have to know who the intended audience is. I could take a passage out of Genesis and say that God is demanding that I build an ark. Come on man. That's not how it works. What "guides my cherry-picking" are the words of Jesus Christ–he clearly tells us what we are to do. Read the Sermon on the Mount. It would be impossible for someone to follow all the rules in the Old Testament, that's why they were simplified by God himself in the New. The Old Testament is the Hebrew Bible, the first 5 books were written specifically for a people that were liberated from Egypt. The purpose of these people was to pave the way for the coming of the messiah. They HAD to be held to a higher standard than all the peoples of the world. You are not an ancient israeli from the BC era, therefore you don't have to stone someone for working on the sabbath.

    July 8, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • CJ

      John, I agree but you apparently are casting your pearls (of wisdom) before swine (Deckerd)

      July 8, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Deckard

      The bible does tell you to do these things, but the reason you don't is because you have an intrinsic secular morality regarding right and wrong that's independent of scripture. This is why you ignore the horrible orders, and follow the good ones.

      July 8, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  3. CJ

    Why should anyone take offense in what somebody else believes or doesn't believe?

    A sign that says 'heaven' isn't affecting an atheist anymore than a sign that says 'There is no God' would affect a Christian.

    The problem with atheists is the same as with gays- they don't want anything at all in the world reminding them of the possibility that God exists because then they would have to accept all the other things that go with it such as sin and repentance and hell and consequences for actions and worshiping something greater than themselves.

    If there is no God then there is no sin and nobody to repent to. How convenient

    This world consists of the physical and the spiritual and those that fail to perceive this are only living half a life and are only a shell of what they potentially could be. What a shame. Jesus said to doubting Thomas who required proof that Blessed are those who haven't seen yet still believe. It all comes down to faith or lack thereof

    July 8, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Eric

      Funny, as soon as any atheist puts up a "there is no god" sign it is usually vandalized almost immediately. Apparently it does affect some Christians. "Just weeks ago, in St. Augustine, Florida, a billboard by the Northeast Florida Coalition of Reason was vandilized. According to Steven Peek, the coalition’s coordinator, it looked like someone attached the sign to a truck and tried to pull it down." "In December 2009, Conservative activist and Illinois state comptroller candidate, William J. Kelly, tried to do away with an Atheist sign in Illinois’ State Capitol building. The sign was alongside a nativity scene, and so, in a move of religious righteousness, Kelly took it upon himself to turn the sign over so no one could read it." etc.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • K

      Yea let's get something straight being gay is not a choice and only right wing ignorant people actually think a gay person will go to hell just because he is gay. No were in the ten commandments did it say thou shall not be gay and there are plenty of religious people who are gay and plenty of straight Christians who are ready to give up the hate, the problem with gay people isn't that there afraid of god they are afraid of the ignorance of his so called people.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • K

      Read up on the sissy boy experiment then tell me being gay is a choice.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • CJ

      K: Your statements prove that it is you who is ignorant of who or what God is. God is Holy and requires us to be holy as well.
      He stated to Adam and Eve that they could eat of any tree in the garden except one. Although symbolic, this shows that there is a limit to our free will and what we can choose. We cannot live the way we want to live. We must live within God's rules. If you eat from the tree that God has forbidden, ie: h0m0s3xual acts or ANY sin in general then you are choosing death over life and darkness over light. You cannot reinvent God to suit your desires. It doesn't work that way. Good luck trying to do so.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Deckard

      Apparently you take offense, as you've quickly resorted to name calling. Disagreeing with someone doesn't make that person a swine.

      July 8, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  4. John

    Great Deckard–but is this a message for you or for the people of ancient Israel? The Bible also goes on and on in the book of Leviticus about animal sacrifices, but that has nothing to do with us. His chosen people had to be pure, separated and free from evil. The standards were practically unattainable which is why we have the new covenant–that being the sacrifice of his son.

    July 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Deckard

      You stated the bible was a perfect message. Did you mean kind of perfect? What guides your cherrypicking of what to follow and what to ignore? This could explain your incorrect claim that the passages mandating death for working on the Sabbath and for misbehaving children were not in the bible.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  5. John

    Deckard- the Bible does not tell us to kill people who work on the sabbath or children that misbehave. As a matter of fact, one of the comandments is Thou Shall Not Kill (murder). I have read the Bible. Sure, there were plenty of attrocities recorded in the Bible. So? That's history. Is there anything wrong with recording history? The United States has been a force for good for centuries now. Yet our history books show that we enslaved people and dropped the atomic bomb. Does that make us evil? My point is, the message of the Bible is that A) God created man, B) God wants a relationship with man C) God provided a way for forgiveness of sins D) God will ultimately judge all those who have lived.

    July 8, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • JohnR

      If there were a god, he'd be all sorts of amused by those who claim to know what he wants.

      July 8, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Deckard

      Exodus 31:15
      New International Version (NIV)

      For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death.

      Deuteronomy 21:18-21
      New International Version (NIV)

      18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

      July 8, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • CJ

      Get out of the old testament and into the New. People of the old testament where under the law but after Jesus was born, suffered and died for our sins mankind is no longer under the laws of the old testament but under God's saving grace through Jesus. So read the new testament and every word that Jesus said and you will know how God wants you to live your life.
      Jesus also said that those that belong to Him would hear His voice and follow Him.

      July 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Eric

      The New Testament is in some ways even more immoral. You can actually get tortured for all eternity just by not believing in god. Even the most backwards conservative countries in the world can't punish people at that level of depravity. It is a deeply immoral thing that far exceeds anything else.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • CJ

      Eric: The reason God created you with free will is so that you can know and love Him freely. He didn't create robots that have no choice but to love Him. If you fail to love God and neighbor then you have failed the very purpose of being created. God is love and light so if YOU reject Him (God never rejects us) then you have made that choice and God will honor it. To chose not to love or be with God IS hell for without God you have nothing that is good for all good comes from God.

      July 8, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  6. John

    Nonimus–your fellow countrymen are also my fellow countrymen and I can't recall ever preventing anyone from believing what they want. Just because I believe and know the truth doesn't mean I'm forcing anyone to believe it. I would venture to say that 99.9% of all establishments in America are secular and have nothing to do with any sort of belief, so I don't see how atheists are being prevented fron non-believing.

    July 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Certain beliefs are excluding Muslims from the freedom of expression, namely those situations I named already, Park 51, Temecula, Murfreesboro, and I suspect there are more. You may not be personally preventing expression, but those with similar beliefs, i.e. Christians, are.

      July 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  7. John

    C- al lunatic who has had more of an impact on humanity than any human that ever lived? Pretty impressive? And exactly what "stories and historical nonsense" did he hijack? "Someone had a following"–that's a pretty amazing following for a lunatic. We're talking over 1/3 of the modern world believes in him thousands of years after his death and resurrection. That's much more than just your average flash-in-the-pan cult following. Show me another story in history where God came to earth in the form of a human, was born of a virgin, lived, died and was crucified and resurrected. If you can show me that story recorded before Jesus existed, I will certainly have something to think about.

    July 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • kevin Reid


      July 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      huios Greek for "Son".
      Helios Greek for Sun

      So accusing that the writers of the bible confused the writing language of the english words of Son with Sun in there Greek language would be like confusing the word Hunter with Hellium... just not possible Son and Sun in Greek not even close.

      Oh and Jesus wasn't born on Dec 25 nor ever claim to be so at minute 6 and every point after that false statement leads to a false colusion... but the author gets a pat on the back for trying to use a fallacy as truth and continuing.

      Here is another great trick

      Step 1: Let a=b.
      Step 2: Then a^2 = ab,
      Step 3: a^2 + a^2 = a^2 + ab,
      Step 4: 2a^2 = a^2 + ab,
      Step 5: 2a^2 – 2ab = a^2 + ab – 2ab,
      Step 6: and 2a^2 – 2ab = a^2 – ab

      Step 7: This can be written as 2(a^2 – ab) = 1(a^2 – ab),
      Step 8: and cancelling the from both sides gives 1=2.

      See how one slight twist of the truth can lead you in the wrong direction.

      July 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  8. John

    By the way, I do have evidence and I do have proof. It's called the Holy Bible. It's all right there. A collection of 66 different books written over the course of almost 2000 years by over 40 different authors from all walks of life with one complete, cohesive, perfect message. I think it takes more faith to believe that generations and generations of people conspired to fabricate all of this–and for what purpose?

    July 8, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Deckard

      Perfect message? Clearly you haven't read the entire bible. Why don't we kill people that work on the Sabbath or children that misbehave? That's in the bible, along with a lot of other atrocious things. The bible is proof of nothing except that a mostly ficticious work can be taken literally by millions as a handbook for life.

      July 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Mike from CT

      We are all worthy of death for the reason mention but we have been saved by God by Grace through Faith (eph 2:8) . There is a debt that must be paid now, two options, make the offender pay it, or bare the burden of the offender. This is what Christ has done for us.

      If I wreck your car, you can make me pay or you can forgive, taking on the debt of having to get a new car but a debt must be paid regardless. You can use the excuse "couldn't it just disappear", by "just disappearing" someone is still carrying the burden of the debt.

      July 8, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  9. Cheryl

    Whatever anyone believes about the world, it's sickening to see the memory of these fallen heroes being used in this ugly manner. If there had been any intent in truly honoring their memory the people behind this sign would never have chosen to break the law in order do so. Sad, sad, sad but not unexpected from evangelicals.

    July 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  10. 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 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  11. John

    Do we have any proof or evidence that Alexander the Great existed? Sure we do, but actually, we have more evidence that Jesus existed. Yet nobody ever tries to disprove Alexander's existence. Why? Because Alexander the Great never claimed to be God. Atheists have no problem accepting anything in a history book unless it has something to do with faith/God. Not wanting to believe something does not make it untrue. The truths of the Bible bother you so it's easy to dismiss them as a "fairy tale". That doesn't change the fact that it's true. One can deny the Holocaust because the idea of it "bothers" them and they find it so outrageous that they dismiss it as untrue. Does that change the fact that it happened? One cannot prove that God exists just like one cannot prove that he does not. However, one can know that God exists by having a personal relationship with him. But of course you can just say that all believers are dillusional or insane. I find that hard to believe. I am a completely healthy, well-educated, perfectly sane person, yet I believe in God. Does that mean I'm not a free-thinker? What makes a free-thinker?

    July 8, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • C

      There were plenty of men with the name Jesus around the time he is said to have existed, thus, the man is likely to have existed. Christians miss the point entirely, and atheists are silly to claim there is more or less existence for certain other historical figures that commonly come up in this debate. If you were to look for evidence of my great grandparents, you would likely arrive at the conclusion that they simply didn't exist, and I'm delusional. Did Jesus exist? Probably, someone had a following much like one of the multiple modern day lunatics that believe they are God in the flesh. Was he actually God? The only reason some believe his story over the modern day stories is a trick of history and the effect it's contemplation has on the irrational human mind, i.e., no, Jesus was "most likely" another lunatic who hijacked the stories and historical nonsense of his time, and people followed him.

      July 8, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  12. Nonimus

    You said,"You completely misunderstood. Had you actually watched the #18 video you would have seen some of those points covered in the books you wanted me to read. For the record not all evolution is wrong, just those addressed in the video on origins. Don't expect me to look at your point of view if your not willing to look at mine lol."

    You completely misunderstand.
    Evolution is not a "belief" it is an extremly well tested and well substantiated scientific Theory that is the best explanation of the diversity of life we see, based on the evidence we have. My point is that a single video by anyone, let alone a former "science teacher" that calls himself Dr. Dino, is not going to overturn ~150 years of scientific research and discovery in multiple fields of study that all confirm, or are consistent with, the scientific Theory of Evolution.

    Please, cite a specific claim of evolution that you have a problem with and the evidence that you have to support your point of view. Alternatively, present an alternative hypothesis that provides a better explanation than Evolution of the evidence, including the genetic, geological, fossil, biochemical, and biogeological evidence.

    July 8, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  13. Goddog

    In order for churches to maintain thier freedoms from the powers of the state the chuches must necasarrily remain seperate from any matters of the state. As an Atheist however, I would rather pick battles that actuall matter on a larger scale. If the sign had read "Paradise" I doubt that there would be any contraversy, and that is just another imaginary place to me, so I don't have a problem with the sign.

    July 8, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  14. Yarg

    The sign is a street label. It doesn't need to be about 7 god-damned firemen no matter how awesome they were!

    July 8, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  15. John

    Proving God exists would take away ones free will to accept him. It is by faith and faith alone. The Bible says "you will find Me when you seek me with all your heart". Search for God and you will find him. It's as easy as that. No one can prove to you that God exists. You don't need proof to believe in something. Besides, even if someone "proved" it to you, you wouldn't believe it if you didn't want to. All you can do is read God's word and pray and ask him to reveal himself to you and he will.

    July 8, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Yarg

      You say it is by faith and faith alone, yet you have no proof of that anymore than you have proof that anything in your Bible is true.
      Where is your proof of anything that you say? All you have are empty words born from an empty heart.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Nonimus

      "It is by faith and faith alone."
      Then why tell us that?

      July 8, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Scott

      "Besides, even if someone "proved" it to you, you wouldn't believe it if you didn't want to" You only say this because you have no proof. You don't even have any evidence.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • ThinkHarder

      Your logic is folly. Even the demons know God exists, and reject Him.

      So too, if God were proven to exist, could people still reject Him. That is the choice of freewill.

      July 8, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Reverend Strategy Pony

      If you make a positive statement, i.e. "God exists," you must prove it through testable and verifiable means. Just saying "I have faith" or "I just feel/need it to be true" is not proof. Those statements can not be verified through testable means. Also saying, "the bible says he exists," is akin to saying Little Red Riding Hood exists because the Grimm Fairy Tale says so.

      July 11, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  16. harry

    What's the big F'in deal? It's a sign remembering our heroes that died on 9/11.

    You atheists don't mind the words "IN GOD WE TRUST" on your money....why the big fuss now?

    July 8, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Nonimus

      While not an atheist, per se, I do mind "In God We Trust" on our money. Not only is it, in my opinion, a violation of the First Amendment, but I would think that anyone who actually "Trusted" God would also "mind" their God being attached to something so earthly as money. One is supposed to love God, but the love of money is supposedly the root of all evil. How's that work?

      July 8, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Nicole

      That is an Awesome observation Harry 🙂 I didn't even think of Athiests not complaining that on money it says "In God We Trust". But as for the other reply the scripture is 1Timothy 6:10 and it says "for the love of money is A root of all kinds of evil." It is not money itself, it is the "LOVE of money". All resources come from the Creator. It is sad to me that the president of New York Atheist will actually "die for the right to believe" in nothing.... May the Lord bind up the spirit of confusion from you Mr. Bronstein. In Jesus' name, Amen.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • JohnR

      "In god we trust" should without question be removed from our money.

      July 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  17. ed

    the atheists say prove there is a God i ask these same ateists to prove there is no God! ateism is just as much a religion because it is based on faith in thier beliefs. i say again prove there is no God! the truth of the matter is that they have no way to prove that thier beliefs are true! i say beliefs because they have proof of truth for thir beliefs! cocerning this sign, what is the problem, this sign is honoring men who died not honoring God who should be honored. when the atheists can prove there is no God then they can talk until then they can shut up! i am tired of listening to them whine about our belief in God when in actuality they do have a god they see him every time they look in the mirror!

    July 8, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Lasher42

      Sure, define god for me and I'll explain a counter argument.

      Lets just say either there is no being able to stop the suffering in the world, or one who doesn't care enough to. Either way it adds up to ths same thing.

      July 8, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Scott

      No Ed I don't say "prove there is a God". I say show me the smallest scrap of testable evidence that your god exisits and I'll become an agnostic. Show me 2 and I'll become a unitarian.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  18. John

    Atheists are wrong. God is real. The problem is, when they finally have their "proof", it will be too late. Atheists, you are wrong. There is a God. Don't allow this "new atheist" movement to lead you down the path of death. Richard Dawkins is wrong. Sam Harris is wrong.

    July 8, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Lasher42

      OK John, prove it.

      July 8, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Nonimus

      Claiming something does not make it true. You can say "God is real" as many times as you like, but it does not change a thing. (...without evidence it doesn't convince anyone either.)

      July 8, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • MuD

      Look, lets be real. God isn't. I am sorry to say it but logic outways your 1000 foot crutch. I wanted to believe. I thought "Man, how great would it be to still exist in pure happiness and bliss after my mortal body dies". However, logic dictates that when you die you cease to exist. If that is unfathomable then consider where you were 200 years ago.... What do you remember? With all of the religions that exist today why is it ok to say that your is the one and only true. I think that in itself is a selfish thought. Why is it so hard to wrap our minds around the idea that some all pow 26 27 28 29 30 31

      erful force did not create us. And IF he did why is he watching us destroy ourselves in its beautiful world? If you are going commit to something let it be selfpreservation of the palce we call home instead of letting it go to waste on the idea that someone will save us. I say that generally speaking John. I am not saying that you specifically are the culprit to the worlds destruction. But what kind of god is your god to allow genocide and murder and massacre, because a group of people do not believe in how you believe. I think Athiests have it right. However, this particular case is sad. They don't want it on a sign but they will use currency with god printed on it. Like a vegan eating eggs. Only sort of committed.

      July 8, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Shadowflash1522

      John, you don't seem to realize that atheists, of all people, are committed to the "path of death". They have already accepted that when they die, that's it–no heaven, no afterlife, complete obliteration. Believe it or not, that is exactly the premise of atheism. So how exactly is the threat of death supposed to persuade them to convert?

      July 8, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  19. Mike from CT

    “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

    secular: is the state of being separate from religion.

    For instance, eating and bathing may be regarded as examples of secular activities, because there may not be anything inherently religious about them. Nevertheless, both eating and bathing are regarded as sacraments in some religious traditions, and therefore would be religious activities in those world views

    - You may want to work on getting that pesky Declaration of Independance removed first
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    Why is Creator capitalized? Especially if we are all a biological accident.

    Bronstein calls the sign a violation of the separation of church and state,
    - The only problem is the state did not pay for the sign, that is like saying building a privately funded church building is a voilation of church and state.

    Please, my Atheists friend, defend your president and try to pass that bull that you are more wiser and enlighten then everyone else.

    "That's nonsense,” said Anbriena Insausti,

    July 8, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Scott

      I’ve got no problem with “Creator” being capitalized in the declaration. I’m just glad the Christians couldn’t sneak in a whole word like “Christ” or “bible”. Interesting when you consider how many Christians insist the country is founded on the bible and Christianity.

      July 8, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  20. Rainer Braendlein

    I guess, God could stand Satan, if he would not always try to rule and if he would not want all people to become as wretched as he himself. If have heard, the basic mental defect of criminals is their downright will to rule at any rate.

    The pure statement "There is no God!" sounds so harmless, but the adherents of atheisms want to impose their disbelief on everybody, and they even want to rule. That is the big danger of atheism, Christians should beware of.

    July 8, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Lasher42

      Again, no. If you want to believe in a god, go ahead. But do so in your house, in your church, not in my government. I have no desire to change your faith, only to keep you from imposing it on me.

      July 8, 2011 at 9:57 am |
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