On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

Atheists are demanding that the City of New York remove a Brooklyn street sign in front of a fire station honoring its seven firefighters killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

They say they are offended by the word “Heaven.”

The street, “Seven in Heaven Way,” was officially dedicated in Brooklyn outside the firehouse where the seven served. The ceremony was attended by firefighters, city leaders and widows of the fallen men. 

However, Ken Bronstein, president of the New York City Atheists say “Heaven” has no place in the Big Apple.
“It’s really insulting to us.” said Bronstein, who said his group will sue to have the sign removed. “We’ve concluded as atheists there is no heaven and there’s no hell.”

The sign is a flagrant violation of the U.S. Constitution, he said. “It’s a totally religious statement. It’s a question of separation of church and state.”

He said he didn’t care that the sign honors fallen heroes. “It’s irrelevant who it’s for,” he said. 

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, agreed calling on the city to remove the sign. “It implies that heaven actually exists,” Silverman told Fox News Radio. “People died in 9/11, but they were all people who died, not just Christians. Heaven is a specifically Christian place. For the city to come up and say all those heroes are in heaven now, it’s not appropriate.”

The concept of heaven is central to Christians — the idea that eternal life is a gift of God’s grace to those who accept Jesus Christ.  The idea that an afterlife is filled with reward and pleasure is found in ancient Assyrian, Aztec, Egyptian, Canaanite, Phoenician, Polynesian and Hittite theology. Today, the hope of an eternal heaven is shared in a variety of forms by the Bahai, Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic faiths.

“All memorials for fallen heroes should celebrate the diversity of our country and should be secular in nature,” said Silverman. “These heroes might have been Jews.” 

Jewish theology refers to the olam haba, the World to Come. The classic Jewish text, the Pirkei Avot, cites Rabbi Yaakov as saying “This world is like a lobby before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall.”

New York City leaders seemed dumbfounded by the atheists’ outrage because they had not said anything during the lengthy and bureaucratic public approval process. “It’s unfortunate that they didn’t raise this as an issue while it was undergoing its public review either at the community board level or when it came before the City Council,” said Craig Hammerman, the district manager for Brooklyn Community Board 6. 

Hammerman said in public hearings, the public was “solidly behind this proposal. Not a single person stood up to speak out against it. I think it’s a little late in the process for someone to be bringing this up now.” 

“When you think you’ve heard it all, you haven’t,” Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz told Fox News Radio. “These seven brave souls who put their lives on the line and ultimately gave up the most precious gift that could be given, believe me are in heaven for serving us so admirably.”

Atheists Protest Seven In Heaven Street Sign: