A group of New York atheists claims a new street sign, “Seven in Heaven Way,” honoring seven firefighters killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, violates the First Amendment and should be removed.
American Atheists is demanding the sign be removed from Richards Street in Brooklyn because it advances the religious notions of the afterlife.
David Silverman president of American Atheists said in a statement, “It’s improper for the city to endorse the view that heaven exists. It links Christianity and heroism.”
Another member of the group, Ken Bronstein, pointed out that, “The problem with the sign is that you're assuming that you know what they felt deep down. You're assuming they even believed in heaven."
Bronstein told Fox News Radio that the sign was “really insulting to us.”
He added, “It’s irrelevant who it’s for. We think this is a very bad thing,”
The sign, hung on Saturday, was dedicated to Joseph Gullickson, Brian Cannizzaro, Salvatore Calabro, Thomas Kennedy, Patrick Byrne, Joseph Maffeo, and Terence McShane, and was specifically placed outside the firehouse where they served.
Tom Miskel of Community Board 6 said the sign is not specific to Christianity because “almost every religion has some form of heaven.”
City Council member Sara Gonzalez told Gothamist via her spokesman Mike Schweinsburg, "The seven heroes have long been known as the 'Seven in Heaven,' that's something that we didn't have any hand in, it is the way the community and their families chose to remember them. So if that is their desire then we are happy to continue to remember them in the way that their family and fellow firefighters prefer to call them."
Craig Hammerman, the district manager for Brooklyn Community Board 6, is perplexed by atheists’ reactions because there was no complaint during the approval process for the sign.
He said, “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 on their public agenda.”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, pondered if cities with religious connotations in their names should be removed also.
“There are cities that have religious connotations in their names, why not a street,” Land asked. “Do they want us to rename Los Angeles, Corpus Christi, and St. Joseph?”
Bronstein said that if the city does not remove the sign he might commence a lawsuit.