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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. steve

    "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries." -James Madison

    July 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • amy

      Yes, but it isn't supposed to remove all references to religion from public view.
      Does money scare you because it says "In God We Trust"? What kind of a sissy is so afraid of any mention of God that they must have it banned completely? Seriously, feel a little confident in what you stand for.
      And, BTW, I do not like Christianity or other organized religions.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • steve

      amy, no the mention of god does not scare me unto itself. i do fear those that believe we are some sort of religious based state do the point where our governance is biased by religious mythologies.

      steve

      July 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  2. john

    Please athiests, dont fight to ban calculators, since 1134 upside spells "hell" and thats religious. i need my calculator.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • D

      FAIL.
      Calculators aren't run by the state/city.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • john

      its called humor. its fun, try it out sometime. and in case you havent noticed, even athiests are saying this is a dumb fight. join your brethren and give it up.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  3. Scarlette Blues

    I'm an atheist and I think this a ridiculous waste of time. As a society, we have bigger problems than just some street sign. I really wish this article would talk about the specific group/person challenging the sign and not group atheists together as a whole.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  4. Bryan

    It's ironic that Atheists are making a big fuss about a 'heaven' they can actually see...

    July 7, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Scarlette Blues

      not really.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Sybaris

      If you can actually see a heaven you need to check yourself in to a mental hospital

      July 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  5. Carol

    This country was founded on Christianity. I am tired of the atheists in this country trying to undo everything our forefathers have done and the government allowing it to happen. I believe in God and Heaven. There is no proof that Heaven does not exist or that there is a God. The Dead Sea Scrolls which I have seen show that there is a God and a Heaven.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Scarlette Blues

      I think you really need to research the history of America some more. Most of our forefathers were deists, not Christians. Google the Treaty of Tripoli.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Suz

      Careful, Carol. Many other faiths believe in a higher power... and just because a nation was founded by someone of a particular faith doesn't mean that it should continue that way, forever and ever. For example, Thomas Jefferson – one of the most forward-thinking, intelligent of our founding fathers – had a very complex view of faith bordering on outright atheism.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Sybaris

      @Carol

      "The Dead Sea Scrolls which I have seen show that there is a God and a Heaven"

      So you believe anything anyone writes on old paper?
      If one text is older than the other do you supercede the more recent god with the older one?
      Ever read Egyptian texts?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • amy

      How do the dead sea scrolls show that god exists?
      You are just as bad as the Aethiests.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  6. Tony

    As an atheist I am disturbed by this. Not the sign, but the actions of the NY group. This isn't a battle worth fighting. Even if the sign is forced to come down the damage atheists will receive far out weighs the supposed victory.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  7. sharky

    Hey Atheists, yes you fanatical ones, why not go and challenge Washington D.C. and the Supreme Court itself. Take a good long look at the Washington Monument. I would so love for you all to go and attack and demand that monument be ripped down for all the "religion" all over it. And then I want you all to go and sue the Supreme Court, oh yes the Supreme Court because as part of their court procedures upon entering, prior to speaker of the court does the Oyez Oyez Oyez ...... and then ends with "God save the United States and this Honorable Court." Yes Atheists GO and challenge the Supreme Court of the United States and Washington D.C.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Michael

      That's actually a better fight than this one. The families of the deceased approve of the "Seven in Heaven" message, and as an atheist I believe that as long as the individual (or in this case the family of the individual) approves of being associated with a religion, then that's fine by me.

      But then that would also mean that I would not object to the Washington Monument as long as it accurately reflects Washington's life.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Sybaris

      "God save the United States and this Honorable Court."

      Which god?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  8. Lisa

    Most atheists I know spend more time thinking and talking about God and Christianity than a few Christians I know, bless their little hearts.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Veritas

      At least the 7 in heaven are below D ICK street right where they belong in the path of the lemonade

      July 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • 4d4m

      Atheists are also far more educated about religion than Christians, according to a recent Pew poll. Bless their little theistic brains.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  9. Cronus

    The atheists are at it again and they say Christians are intolerant and extremist. These atheists, mostly leftists are dedicated to purging anything that has even a hint of Christianity out of the public arena, which is exactly what the communists tried to do in eastern Europe, China and Russia. We need to watch out for these people,

    July 7, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • D

      Wow, that's about the most un-American thing I've read all day.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • amy

      Actually, the Aethiests are what would be considered Libertarian in today's world. Liberals don't go there. Or, don't you pay attention?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  10. Drew

    I'm an atheist, and this is a bit over the top. Yes we are a secular nation, and I do wish that more people would understand the separation of church and state, but come on, choose your battles. People already think that we atheists are terrible people for not believing in their god, so why challenge such a touchy subject? I hope religious people will realize that the majority of atheists and agnostics are not arrogant and pushy. I know it's hard to not think that since the ones that are screaming are the ones that get all of the attention, just at it is in any religion and politics. The majority of us are good people.

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

      And I wish that nonreligious people wouldn't see people of faith as raving nutjobs. Most believers are really quiet, gentle practicers of their faith.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Drew

      Suz, exactly my point. That's what I meant when I said the ones screaming get all of the attention.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  11. Marc Benarrous

    There is no GOD HA!

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

      Because you said so, right? (sigh.)

      July 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • john

      nanny nanny boo boo?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Mike

      A fool says in his heart, there is no God.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Sybaris

      @ mike

      Do you believe in Ra?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  12. the_dude

    Do people become atheists just for something to do? Is this just something to occupy your time with various signs around the country? My suggestion would be to go volunteer at a shelter or food bank or something.

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

      A lot of us do actually.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Matt, San Diego

      I became an Atheist when I read the Bible and realized it was a crock...

      July 7, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Sybaris

      I suppose you COULD become an Atheist but then you yould be reverting to the default mode because everyone is born an Atheist. No..........., no, no, no....... no invisible man touched you in the womb and made you a believer so don't even go there.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  13. Marc Benarrous

    Really Bill? Majority is correct? I guess we should also change our national language to spanish then, cuz they'll soon our number english speakers in this country and then should majority win?

    July 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  14. D

    "That's nonsense,” said Anbriena Insausti, who lives in Manhattan. “The families should honor their loved ones anyway they want."

    Ah, BIG difference between the FAMILIES honoring their loved ones and THE STATE. Apples and Orange!

    July 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  15. Nonyo Bizniss

    Does this mean that any public reference to heaven will have to be changed? what about no longer used terms for heaven? Valhalla, elysium, ect...where are the athiestic sensibilities in reference to these terms? I'm sorry, athiests are a minority in this nation of ours and we need to remember its the majority that make the rules. We shouldn't pander to the sensibilities of the minority in any subject. Athiests is it really so bad to see these symbols or view references to what you dont believe? You hate it when religons voice their oppinions but what about when you do it back? Live and let live! were only human after all......

    July 7, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Suz

      Athiests aren't necessarily a minority... but even if they were, just because a demographic group is a minority doesn't give anyone an excuse to ignore them.

      Still, I just wish everyone would stop being so offended at every little thing. "7 In Heaven Way" should not be offensive to anyone who is strong in their belief OR nonbelief. To each their own.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • D

      Sorry to burst your bubble, but the country was not designed to be a strict 'majority rules' system, ya know. Trying to protect some rights for minority viewpoints was the reason the Senate was created. It's more of a "the majority usually gets their way, but not always" system.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Vader

      "I'm sorry, athiests are a minority in this nation of ours and we need to remember its the majority that make the rules. "

      ... and thankfully, it is the Supreme Court that strikes down those rules when they trample on the minority.

      By your way of thinking, segregation would still be one of "the rules". It was, after all, supported by "the majority" at the time.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Matt, San Diego

      Actually Atheists and non-believers alike are a FAST growing minority. In 1990, only about 3% of people would dare call themselves an Atheist. In 2011, the number is more like 16%. Minorities maybe, but Atheists outnumber Jews in this country. Would you tell a Jewish person that since they are a minority, they should just shut up? You'd be branded an anti-semite, and probably be punched int he face. So your argument that minorities should simply deal with the majority rule is not only anti American, its bigoted. This country is about EQUALITY, not Majority Rule. The only majority rule exists in our congressional chambers. Once you step outside, yo're like everyone else. An American. And Americans all share different beliefs. Even in Christianity, you have over 1,000 permutations of that belief system. So before you go hitting minorities, you may wish to think before you open your mouth and make yourself look like a bigoted fool.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • amy

      Actually Nonyo, the United States has a great history of making sure that the minority is not railroaded by the majority. It used to be something that Americans thought was important to do. Take, for example, the Civil Rights Movement. That movement had as its tenet that people and corporations need to be encouraged to do the right thing as they will not do so without encouragement. If you don't like it, move to a different country and become a minority there.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  16. Doomguy

    Not all atheists are against it, just a few loudmouths. Myself, I could care less what they call the road. If they allow L. Ron Hubbard way in LA, then New York should get 7 in heaven.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • UsFreedom

      I am an atheist. I don't care that a street sign has the word Heaven in it. What I have to say to the atheist hardliners... pick your battles. Leave this one alone.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Drew

      What these guys said ^

      July 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  17. Darrin

    Is being self righteous a prerequisite to being atheist? Outside of congress I can't think of a group of people more full of themselves.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Suz

      I have to agree. Anyone who proselytizes – believing or nonbelieving – is a pain to listen to! Nobody wants to be told what to believe or not believe. To each their own.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Rick

      Really? More than the "saved" crowd?

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

      I can think of a group more so ... and their initials are E and C

      July 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  18. steve

    can someone please explain to me why we allow church land to be tax free???? i believe all churches and all leaders of churches should be taxed.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Doomguy

      I agree with that, but it isn't exactly on topic here.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Nick

      Churches are non profits. Any non profit group is listed as tax free

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

      because if they get taxed, then they are allowed to openly donate to the candidates of their choices and influence the vote. Sure, they already do it (religious have strong Republican backing) but taxing them will allow them to do it openly for one and that would be a BIG problem with the money churches have.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Doomguy

      @Nick – Then why are the people running megachurches driving in expensive cars and living in mansions? They certainly didn't earn their money the old fashioned way.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Michael

      @Doomguy... If they use those cars and mansions for personal use without declaring them on their personal tax returns and they get audited, they'll go to jail. For the record, the people who run a non-profit may draw a salary or receive benefits, but it is personal income when they do. They must also declare those salaries on their publicly available 990 returns.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  19. Suz

    Everyone wants to be offended. Sheesh.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  20. Gary

    If the Athiests don't like it, they should move to Cuba!

    Screw the Athiests and the ACLU!

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

      it because of organizations like the aclu that you are free to spew your nonsense in the public domain without retribution from the government, wow, how clueless you are.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Rick

      Gary: We are citizens and have right to free speech. I don't happen to agree with the stances taken by all atheists, but they do have a right to speak their mind. If this bothers you, may I suggest a 55 gallon drum of KY jelly and a half dozen unripened pineapples?

      July 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • UsFreedom

      Dude... Atheist does not equal ACLU. Don't lump us into that. The ACLU is part of the problem in America today. IMO.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Chainyanker

      So if you have a minority opinion, it's then ok for someone to say you should move to Cuba or some other country?
      You seem to have no foresight.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • skytag

      You sound like an idiot. The sign clearly sends a message that the city endorses a belief in Heaven, which seems inappropriate whether you believe in Heaven or not. Telling everyone who isn't just like you to move to Cuba is childish. The country wasn't created just for people like you. Grow up.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • skytag

      Thank you for making it clear you oppose civil liberties. How many hours do you spend listening to conservative talk radio in an average week?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:28 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.