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. dawn

    Just leave the sign alone. Are we that delicate people? eye roll

    July 7, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  2. Joseph

    Is anybody offended by "Los Angeles", or "San Francisco", or "San Diego", or "Corpus Christi"? Should those names be changed because of their reference to Christ, angels and saints?

    July 7, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • boka

      Yes. I think those names should be changed.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • dan25ny

      Those are just names, which is different than a purposefully worded phrase. Names are just arbitrary labels, whereas the phrase seven in heaven is meant to convey that seven people are in heaven, which is pretty explicitly Christian.
      I don't agree that a street sign is the best place to make a stand against religious presence, but the atheist group does have a valid argument.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • FYI

      I'll bet that lots of the people who live in Medina, OH, WA and MN don't know that Medina is Islam's second holiest city!

      July 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  3. Llama Llama Duck

    Funny, my comment has been in moderation for over an hour now. Thought it might be a little long...then I saw some two and three times as long from others that seemed to post immediately. The thread I was trying to comment on is now two pages back. Argh. CNN seems to bear ill-will to the Llama LLama Duck.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Llama Llama Duck

      Maybe I can split it up...sneak it in...

      July 7, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Llama Llama Duck

      Not working...everything of value going to moderation...wonder what word set off the censors?

      July 7, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Llama Llama Duck


      July 7, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Llama Llama Duck


      July 7, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Llama Llama Duck


      July 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Llama Llama Duck

      Oh, CNN...you will not be receiving a fruitcake this December!

      July 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  4. Scott

    The message on the sign is NOT a church or a religion. If the word heaven troubles this particular group of Atheist so much, I feel very sorry for them because it's gotta hurt real bad every time they glance up.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Paul Ronco

      The atheists are right, it's an inappropriate merger of church and state.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Scrubbo

      When they, what, look up and see the sky? Yah, that's gotta hurt. Ouch.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Sybaris

      "I feel very sorry for them because it's gotta hurt real bad every time they glance up"

      The religious and their endless parade of fallacies.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • dan25ny

      Scott, they just want to draw a line in the sand somewhere. I think choosing a street sign for this is pretty silly, but it's valid.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  5. ChilaMoo

    It is a street sign; seriously how important is this? I live in the southwest where street signs say things like Rancho Sin Vacas which translates to Ranch Without Cows. So what?

    July 7, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • boka

      It's the principle of the matter. Heaven is obviously religious. USA needs to keep religion and state separate at all costs. Or risk the cheapening both religion and state. Religion has flourished in the country because Religion and state is separate. That is fact.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  6. William Demuth

    I wonder how the Guidos back in the old neighborhood might feel if someone named the street "Infidel Way"

    Leave the stone age beliefs in the stone age.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  7. Convinced Atheist

    I am an atheist. Have been since I was old enough to give serious thought to the issue of religion.

    And, as far as I'm concerned, the only downside to atheism it that there are times when I wish I could offer a "God Bless you!" to someone who's actions have affected me.

    I like the sign. I don't see it as a confirmation of an imaginary deity, it's a tribute to human heroism. And I believe in that.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • boka

      Anyone that says "God bless you" to me I shoot a dirty look at them.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  8. Funny

    Atheist...get out of your parents basement and go live a life before you evaporate, dehydrate or whatever you "believe" happens to you when you croak. You're bitter beer face trolling is pretty dang funny!

    July 7, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Funny

      LOL your ><

      July 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • DuchessFeathers

      You know something – I was raised going to a nice Presbyterian church. Have all my little Sunday school pins for attendance, sang in the church choir. Then I reached a point in my life where I began to question this 'religion' thing. It's an individual preference. I don't care what your preference might be nor do I make fun of you for it. Why do all the so-called christians have to put down anyone and everyone who does not believe in the magic man in the sky? Why? It's not up to you – it's up to me. I won't make fun of your beliefs and you shouldn't make fun of mine.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  9. Ryan

    Christians should familiarize themselves with the Treaty of Tripoli, signed the US in 1796, which states, in part: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..." I don't have particular issue with this sign. It's a hokey name. Not everything has to rhyme. In terms of Nancy asking for an atheist to prove they are not in "heaven," as understood from the bible to be an actual place; that question has as much weight and validity as me putting forth that the universe and everything in it was created by an invisible half-ape half-octopus that lives in my attic, who only speaks to me, and whom only I can see. I can say: prove to me that the universe and everything in it WASN'T created by the invisible half-ape half-octopus that lives in my attic and who only speaks to me and whom only I can see! I can't be done. But my assertion is patently absurd. As is the proposition that the world and man were created by a vengeful intelligence that hated his creation so much that he decided to slaughter them all (save Noah) in a flood.

    To me, some of the most amusing discussions are between two christians. It's like listening to two inmates in a mental ward, both of whom are convinced they are the reincarnation of Napoleon, discussing their imaged former lives. Sorry, you're both nuts. I'll just hang back and watch, and you let me know when you're ready for your milquetoast.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  10. boka

    Damn John, I think your bible is making you stupid.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • john

      you said 'damn' and thats a reference to hell. I demand you refrain from all religious context in your posts, the athiests do NOT approve.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • boka

      I have changed my mind. I don't think your bible is making you stupid. I KNOW your bible is making you stupid.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  11. john

    Now ive seen a lot of "end of the road signs", and as a christian, i am mightily offended at the suggestion that there is no life after death. no more signs!! no more signs!! no more signs!!

    July 7, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  12. S

    More than Christians believe in heaven.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  13. uos_spo6

    The idea of god in any capacity is inherently offensive to anyone who doesn't accept such wild childish notions.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  14. Roberta

    John – That is the greatest post I have seen! Though I agree with the desire to defend our liberty in the pursuit of no religion, I think this is a bit ridiculous. That being said, go sasquatch!

    July 7, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  15. Leviathan

    "The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." -Psalm 14:1

    July 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  16. zamedo66

    why do athiests always impose their beliefs on everyone? i thought that's something only religion did...

    July 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Teth-Adam

      EXACTLY my point too! An atheist feels that their belief system trumps mine.... How can your religious beliefs be attacked when you don't HAVE any???

      July 7, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  17. Ken

    So .. per the groups leader, the word Heaven on a piece of metal causes him to make a comment “Just don’t shove it down our throat.”. This guy must have a panic attack every time he drives by a church. All those religious references on signs and symbols must push him to the brink of insanity. Or ... perhaps he's already insane. Yeah, that would explain it all. I mean only someone missing some of their marbles would consider this sign as a threat to secularism, so much so that they would threaten to sue.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Cathy W

      Ken, no. It's that public tax dollars paid for the sign. Churches on the other hand, are typically paid for by private funds.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  18. boka

    There has to be a clear line between religion and state. This sign of obviously over the line. Bring it down, bring it down, bring it down.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  19. non-athiest

    I posted this comment below but it is so important to this discussion . . .

    The United States of America was founded on the belief in religion and a higher power. The Declaration of Independence has 3 references to support this fact. The Founding Fathers wrote of a "God", a "Creator" and the "reliance on the protection of Devine Providence".

    If you need further evidence, feel free to read the writings of Benjamin Franklin, Nathan Hale, Patrick Henry and the likes of them for further evidence of the fact that our nation was founded on the beliefs and principles of christianity.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Stevie7

      The Declaration of Indepence that was written by Thomas Jefferson? Who authored the phrase "se.paration of church and state"? Who took out all of the hocus pocus of the new testament and was left with a much shorter book that included only moral teachings? The same Thomas Jefferson that wrote "Question with boldness even the exi.stence of a god"?

      Many of our founding father's were deists – not Christians. Rewrite history all you want in your own head, but that doesn't make it correct.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Erin

      While the founding fathers, for the most part, did believe in a higher power, they were not all christian and had varying beliefs about religion. One thing they did all agree on, however, was the absolute need for a distinct seperation between church and state. They wanted to ensure that no citizen of our country could ever be compelled to believe in or worship any god that they did not choose. The government is supposed to be completely and totally secular. That being said, I really think that this group of athiests could find something much more important to take on. There are violations of church and state going on that are much more pressing.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • non-athiest

      It is question the existence of a higher power and still have faith.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • non-athiest

      Sorry about that prior post . . .

      It is possible to question the existence of a higher power and still have faith.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Stevie7

      "It is possible to question the existence of a higher power and still have faith."

      Sure, but your claims that this nation was founded on the CHRISTIAN faith is just plain incorrect.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • dan25ny

      Try reading the Treaty of Tripoli, which explicitly states that America was not founded on Christianity.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  20. john

    and in other news, the hockey team "new jersey devils" are under attack to change their name to "new jersey sasquatch" after an attack by the athiests of america, whos leader said "we wont live in a nation where our sports teams are responsible for brainwashing our children to believe in fairies or devils".. meanwhile satanic metal bands all over the nation are shaking in their spikes. More news from the food industry to follow.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • The Bobinator

      In other news, cnn commenter John clearly doesn't understand the difference between private individuals and the government. How could anyone make such a silly and obvious blunder, more at 11.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • john

      there are thousands of street names with religious implications. Guess you'll be in court for the rest of your life fighting 'the good fight'. Oh, i think i heard someone in my office say "oh my god".. you better get on the case, im in a federal building

      July 7, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
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