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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. goz

    I'd like to chime in as an agnostic. I wish the organized atheists would stop picking battles like this. It only serves to work against them. A street sign is a street sign. I wouldn't care if they called it "God Rd". We all know what it means and I am not offended by it any more than I would be "Zeus Ln". The atheists would serve us better to work against the election of people like Michelle Bachman. They are the real threat to a secular government.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  2. NODAT1

    Where is this located: violation of the separation of church and state? what violation are they referring too ?

    July 7, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  3. Jem

    What if the sign said seven for Satan. Technically Satanism is a religion, it could be argued in a court of law. Which side of that arguement would you take. Religious matters should be kept in ones heart and in ones church. The Atheists are right things to do with religion i.e. Heaven should not be on a sign that is sanctiond by a government office.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  4. Alex

    Hey Bronstein. Do you know many of the atheists end up being believers. Anyway, let us pray to God so that He brings the sign down or make you a little wiser

    July 7, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  5. Joshua

    Seeing the word "heaven" on a street sign is akin to having Christianity shoved down your throat? How absurd.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Ranterdon

      Yeah this coming from Atheists here who believe they are allowed to shove their beliefs down anyones throats because it's "not religious"...this is what happens to people who in thier world are their own god.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Sybaris

      "this is what happens to people who in thier world are their own god"

      Can you cite a reference to any Atheist that makes this claim?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  6. Larry

    Ah, yes. Another installment from the "You're free to say whatever you want to say, as long as we approve" crowd. NOWHERE are you guaranteed that you won't be offended by something someone else believes. Gut it up, and STFU.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  7. MJSouth

    So go to court!!!!

    July 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  8. GnatB

    I don't know, I'm always sorta curious why athiests believe they are special, and get to force their religion upon everybody else.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  9. Nobody N. Particular

    Its pretty clear that the State is NOT promoting a religion, the naming of the road is in honor for the seven firefighters. At no point does the name of a street interfer with anyone's right to practice (or not practice) their religion. Just another stupid effort by the Atheists to get attention.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  10. Rev. Rick

    As a former conservative Christian, I have no problem with atheists wanting to remove all references to "religion" from public view as very weak attempt to supress it. But you never will. As with anything that is supressed, it simply goes "underground" into hiding and continues to spread. It morphs into other forms, such as a nebulous "spiritually" that is difficult to define, but you will never be completely rid of it. And as long as there is freedom of expression, you will be forced to deal with religion or spirituality in some form or another. With apologies to Sam Harris, you really do need to come to terms with that.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  11. AbraCadabra

    I can never account for these people! While children are dying, not to say in Africa, but in the middle of Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina, the shards of the USSR, and God knows where else) they're arguing about street signs in the forum!

    I wish that they never need worry about their daily bread. Then they will have all the time to decide whether or not our ancestors were monkeys or eels.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  12. ID10T

    Maybe they should publicize their National Holiday also... April 1st.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  13. Pat

    Atheists seem ignore the second part of: the Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
    prohibiting the free exercise thereof

    July 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Can you prove that?

      We have no problem with you putting up signs promoting your fairy tales, it's kind of cute. But when you use other peoples money to do it (tax dollars via local government) then there's a problem.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Libra Lisa

      Yeah, that pesky seperation of church and state means nothing.......

      July 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  14. bethradd

    I am an atheist and I have absolutely no problem with this sign. I believe in the separation of church and state but I also believe in FREEDOM of religion! I believe that just as their are Christians out there that give Christians a bad name, there are atheists out there that give atheists a bad name, and these people are them!

    July 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  15. Judy

    Use another street!

    July 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  16. Bill

    I believe this is a democracy and therefore the majority wins...in this case...the folks who don't object to the use of the word "heaven". All other issues aside...this is what it boils down to. Next?

    July 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  17. Sigh

    An athiest myself but the word heaven goes back to at least 700BC in its current form. The literal meaning is sky. Trying to make a group of people happy who are offended by this is an act of futility.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  18. Travis

    Athiests are quickly becoming the most hated group on America.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Libra Lisa

      Wrong Travis, they are becoming the biggest growing group in the country.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Travis

      Doesn't change the fact they are hated.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  19. Ranterdon

    “We’re supposed to be a secular nation"

    Really? We were endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights...Freedom of religion is not freedom FROM religion...I personally believe that If they can stop the sign then I should be able to stop them from calling themselves atheists.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Observer

      "Creator" could be Allah, God, or anyone else. Notice they purposely DID NOT say God.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  20. Budda belly

    I am an Athiest and have no problem with the sign or other peoples views on religion. I hope all the good things I do, have done and will do in my life will be looked upon as good karma. One needs not know that there is a guy in the sky to be a better person. I went to Catholic school and although it's where I lost faith in an actual guy with sandals, I still support my friends who use religion in a positive way.
    I will continue to give to charities, to help people carry their baby strollers up and down stairs and stay out of the judging game. If not believing in a God makes me a sinner who will go to hell, at least I know there will be other people like me there.
    Lighten up Athiests, these men gave their lives in the name of another religion. Let the sign stay.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Budda belly

      Tpo alert... "need" not know

      July 7, 2011 at 2:01 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.