NYC Atheists Responds Regarding Potential 'Seven in Heaven' Lawsuit

The other day, I made a post about how the NYC Atheists are considering suing over a street sign that reads “Seven in Heaven.”

My feeling was that this would be a disaster in the making (just from a PR standpoint). Even if they were right on principle, I’m not convinced they could win a legal challenge. Even if they won, it may cause more harm than good.

Jane Everhart (their director of communications) wanted to respond to the points I and many of the commenters made. I’m reproducing her email below verbatim (though I added in a couple links when necessary):

  1. The Brooklyn, NY reporter who wrote the original story (which has now gone worldwide, thanks to Reuters) got it right when she wrote that the “Seven in Heaven” street sign “endorses the religious view that afterlife exists.”
  2. Those who wrote about the Establishment Clause in the Constitution got it right — and wrong. It’s true that the First Amendment says merely that the state cannot establish a religion. However, case law has gone beyond that. In the Philadelphia case of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) the precedent was established that subsequently forced Alabama’s Judge Roy Moore to remove from his courthouse a standing monument with the 10 Commandments on it. The decision (later to be known as the “Lemon Test”) established that you cannot place religious symbols in public places where other people are forced to endure them. I.e., you can’t shove your religion down our throats.
  3. NYC Atheists is not concerned about any “bad” public relations we would get by filing a suit. We have found the opposite to be true: We got 25 new members in the first week the story broke. Apparently a lot of people who have been silent are encouraging us now with their money and their presence in our ranks.
  4. A lot of your blog people think seem to think that this is an “unimportant” issue. We did not choose this issue; it chose us. Once it broke in the newspapers, all hell broke loose. Nationwide! And now, Reuters has made it worldwide. I worked for 10 years in a New York public relations firm as a P.R. account writer/supervisor, and one thing I learned: the media controls what stories it wants to cover. You can send tons of press releases to the media and they won’t pick up on the story you want them to cover. So when they bring a story to you, you pay attention. This street sign story is important not because we say so, but because the world says so.
  5. This story is not about the seven firefighters who died — and not even about their families. We too honor the firefighters. That’s why we resent that they are being exploited as an indirect advertisement for a religious afterlife in a heaven that the dictionary describes as the place “where God and angels live.”
  6. The church has become expert at subliminal religious imprinting. And I assure you they too have a public relations office that, even as I write this, is pondering how to deal with our potential suit. We have already sued Bishop DiMarzio of Brooklyn’s Catholic diocese once for making robocalls during the last election to plug a candidate that was soft on clergy child-abusers. That case was thrown out of court. Brooklyn is heavily Catholic. We’re not afraid to sue again. Whatever it takes, we’re prepared to do it.
  7. We have said publicly that we do not wish to change the names of places like “San Francisco.” Those religious names were affixed a couple of centuries ago and have mostly lost all connotation of religon. Nobody thinks of San Francisco as the city of St. Francis. If anything, they think of San Francisco as the city-where-many-gay-people-live. Besides, that’s naming a city after a person, not after an idea or a religious precept. But, as Ken Bronstein puts it, we are now drawing a line in the sand and saying, OK, no more. No new religious “product placement” on our street signs!
  8. The “Seven in Heaven” street sign was paid for by the City of New York, using our tax money. As atheists, we pay taxes and we do not want our hard-earned money to be used to pay for an advertisement for a religious afterlife. You may ask, don’t the religious people also pay taxes? But that does not give them the right to put their religion on a public street sign. We cannot; they cannot.
  9. Are we denying religious advocates their freedom of speech? No. They can spout their religious aphorisms in their churches, in their homes, on their private property. They just can’t do it in public places where it constitutes forcing their religion in our faces. But nobody, nowhere, has complete freedom of speech. You cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre. You cannot slander or defame somebody.
  10. Picture this. You, B.A. (before Atheism), are walking by the “Seven in Heaven” street sign with your 5-year-old kid. He says, “What does that mean, Mommy? ” You say, “It means seven brave firefighters died in the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11.” “Why are they in Heaven, Mommy?” “Well, that’s their reward, son, for being heroes.” “Will I go to heaven, Mommy?” “Well, um, if you are good.” “Will you go to heaven too, Mommy?” “Well, I guess so.” “Will I be there with you, Mommy?” You, bristling: “Well, look, I don’t know.”

    Do you want to go through that conversation with your child? I don’t. But that’s going to happen with scores of borderline-religious moms and dads. Look, if advertisements can get kids to eat Fruit Loops, advertisements can get kids to worry about heaven and hell. And there it is, staring at them: That ad up there on the street that says if you are good, you will go to Heaven and be with the Firefighters. Fruit Loops, anyone?

A couple points:

“This street sign story is important not because we say so, but because the world says so.”

Not exactly. The reason the media is covering this story is not because it’s an important issue. It’s because it’s ridiculous to most people that anyone would be upset about a sign honoring firefighters who died on 9/11 and the media wants to capitalize on that public rage.

I know we want to argue church/state separation is at play here, but I don’t think most Americans see this as an infringement of anyone’s rights or an endorsement of religion. By drawing more attention to this issue, we’re just giving more people a reason to dislike us.

There are other church/state issues that make us look bad (like getting “Under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance), but I would argue that winning that lawsuit would have an important, positive effect on millions of schoolchildren. I don’t see that benefit in this situation.

As for the conversation with the kid… that’s just silly. If this sign freaks you out, what’s going to happen when your son sees a church with a cross on it or a street preacher? What happens when your daughter goes to school and makes friends from religious families? You can’t shield them from faith forever. Might as well guide them in a way that gets them thinking critically about it.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://yamipirogoeth.blogspot.com/ Sakura

    ..honestly, I see this as stupid as the guy who wants to take “hell” out of hello…it’s just going to be a waste of time, money and effort…

  • Brother Gilburt

    It’s just a street name. It’s not making any positive statement about reality like “under god” and “in got we trust.” Both of those statements imply that a monotheistic, personal god exists, but a street name does no such thing. “Seven in Heaven Way” doesn’t violate the constitution anymore than “Pagan Street” or “Valhalla Way.” They’re just names…

  • Erin

    This has been a tough issue for me to “take sides” on, because I do have such a problem with the sign as a matter of principle. But I’m with you, Hemant, for the reasons you’ve stated. An analogy I came up with that helped me to let this one go: a guy in a grocery stores steals a cart full of stuff. That’s probably worth pressing charges, investigating, etc. Some guy snags a snap pea and pops it in his mouth…eh, you let it go. In principle, yeah, that guy’s an ass for eating food he didn’t pay for. But we can’t go around fighting every single snap pea eater in the world. Let’s focus on the bigger picture.
    The rest of the country gets the point – we don’t like the sign. But let’s save the lawsuit for something that really matters. I fear we won’t be taken seriously when it comes to those real issues if we’ve made laughing stocks of ourselves by fighting over a single memorial sign.

  • Larry Meredith

    that last argument about having to explain religion to your children is indeed silly.

    but I think you’re being just as silly, Hemant, for pretty much saying we should stfu about things like this. That we should only make a big deal of opposing it if:
    a) it makes us look good from a liberal perspective
    or
    b) can create a large important change

    Small things like this are important legally, and it shouldn’t matter whether or not the majority of people like us for it. The majority of people in America probably won’t like any clear opposition to religion.

    That sign is wrong. It is illegal. Whether or not the general public likes that doesn’t matter a tiny bit.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I’ve changed my mind. I agree with Jane Everhart. Although I also agree that it is a PR disaster in the making and the chances of winning are slim.

  • Dark Jaguar

    Their responses cover a large number of complaints, and I really do agree that in a civil rights issue, popularity is the lowest concern.

    However, I’m still unconvinced this IS a civil rights issue.

    I’ll copy paste my comment from the last post on this.

    ——-
    My stance is that so long as streets around the country can be named after whatever religious beliefs someone has, then this is okay.

    I checked and that does seem to be the case.

    According to Google maps, there is Allah Avenue, Harrodsburg, KY (Yes, Kentucky of all places), Shiva Court, Durham, NC, Jesus Maria Road, Mountain Ranch, CA (that’s the ONLY US street with Jesus in it, color me surprised), God Sent Court, PA, Budda Lane, Summerville, SC, a few streets with Hell in the name like Hell Neck Road, VA and about 4 Heaven roads.

    On the flip side, while there are no “godless streets” or “atheist avenues”, there’s 5 different Reality streets, such as Reality Trail, Heritage Creek, KY.

    There are also countless streets named after fictional characters or places, like Gandalf Way, Wilmington, MA.

    In other words, far from being an epidemic, at least when it comes to street names, it’s purely flavor. I don’t consider this to be either a direct promotion of religion nor for it to be government taking one religion’s side. Had that Google search resulted in thousands of Heaven streets and not one street named after another religion, I’d probably have a different opinion. Yes, I’m actually rather surprised that religion hasn’t corrupted US street names. Most of them are still named after trees.

    In other words, street names seem to be completely open to whatever whims someone enters, with no unfair bias against any religion or lack thereof as near as my google map search could uncover. This isn’t even in the same category as removing “under god” from money and the pledge, or getting the ten commandments out of a court house. This is more along the lines of protesting a government funded art exhibition that happens to feature a lot of religious artwork.
    ——

    In thinking about it, that research of mine took about 10 minutes tops. A lawyer for the defense is going to be able to come up with a lot more examples of alternative religion names for roads and outright fictional character road names. This is a losing battle not because of popularity, but because it’ll be very easy to establish in a court that other religions ARE in fact fairly represented in street names and they generally aren’t promoting a religion so much as being used to describe the street itself.

    If a big annoying Jesus statue was being constructed in the middle of central park all by itself, fight that. That’s a clear promotion of religion. If the city hires artists to paint a mural with everything from Jesus to Zeus to Ronald McDonald, I’d have to be crazy to interpret that as promoting any particular religion. When you dedicate something to a group, you have to go by the most popular name for that group. Inventing a brand new nickname on the spot is not just insulting, it is just confusing as most of the time, no one’s going to get exactly what the name is intended to mean without an explanation. Well, that’s all I’m going to say on this topic. I’ll change my mind if this can be demonstrated to somehow be different than street names like “Hell’s Bend”.

  • Claudia

    I’m still unconvinced. They have a right to do what they want, but I wish there was some way we could not be taken along for the ride. Sadly, just like when liberal Muslims are maligned when some Islamist moron spouts off on TV, the chances the media takes note that this is far from the universal opinion in our community is practically nonexistent.

    We did not choose this issue; it chose us.

    Err, no. You chose the story. If you had gotten together and decided “Annoying, but not worth making an issue of” the street would have been a short blurb in local NY papers and no one outside NYC would have ever heard about it. Your complaints made it a story and only your continued actions keep it a story. If you think its worthwhile (I disagree) then go for it, but don’t pretend you are the hapless victim of media attention you weren’t seeking.

    Do you want to go through that conversation with your child? I don’t.

    Wow, this rang all the “I don’t want to have to talk to my child about homosexuality!” bells. It’s a terrible justification to say that something should be removed because it provokes difficult conversations with children. It’s not the worlds responsibility to shelter your child from ideas you don’t like. How about this conversation:

    “What does that mean, Mommy? ”
    “It’s a sign dedicated to some brave firefighters that died helping a lot of other people.”
    “What’s Heaven?”
    “Well, some people believe that nice people go in the sky when they die and get wings. That’s what the people who made this sign believe. Other people believe you go to a garden if you’re good. Some other people think you get a planet of your own and other people think you get born all over again, as a baby, or a whale, or even a doggy! People believe all sorts of strange things”

    Frankly, if a parent is religious they’ll find the way to indoctrinate their child whether or not there’s a Seven in Heaven St. or not, or Church St. or not. If you’re not religious and you’re unprepared to explain the name of a street to a child, I shudder to think how you’re going to handle the first time the child sees a crucifix.

  • Martin

    This feels a lot like the guy who sells “Christian Salt” because Kosher salt is too Jewish. The government didn’t make up the “Seven in Heaven” name, and they aren’t saying “Seven by the Right Hand of Jesus”.

    Sue when the president declares a National Day of Prayer, definitely. Don’t sue when he says “Bless You” to some foreign dignitary who sneezed.

  • http://www.neamhspleachas.com Molls

    Has anyone asked the firefighters or their families what they believe in? This particular expression of religion is directed at seven specific people, I would hope their wishes would play a significant role in deciding whether to continue this lawsuit.

    If those seven believed in an afterlife, I would like to think that we can allow their families to be comforted by this belief.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    I love the “… and I’m a Mormon” campaign the LDS is doing. That’s the right way to do PR. Of course, I like the campaign, despise the church.

  • Lyndon

    ‘Heaven’ doesn’t favor any particular religion over any other. And these days it is used loosely and can have other meanings, e.g.

    Heaven: A place, state, or experience of supreme bliss – lying by the pool with a good book is my idea of heaven

    I see no reason why an atheist can’t interpret the sign as saying that they deserve to be in heaven, a state of bliss, even if we don’t believe that to be possible for someone who has died.

    Heaven doesn’t offend me personally, because I see it as synonymous with utopia – a mythical ideal, but also an interesting philosophical problem. What would constitute heaven, or the perfect life/society, were it to exist?

    Increased usage of the word may actually be a good thing. Why not reclaim the word, and take it out of its religious context? Admittedly the street sign isn’t helping with that, but a more constructive response might be to simply make the word more commonplace, and further distance it from religion.

    Finally… how different are those who choose to be offended by this, from those who choose to be offended by illustrations of Mohammed?

    It’s not the best comparison since as far as I know, nobody has threatened violence over the issue, and there is a tenuous case to suggest that this could broadly be considered illegal state sponsorship of religion. But the use of this generic term is hardly intended as an insult towards atheists or an affront to our (lack of) beliefs.

    So let them have their generic term.

    And have yourself a heavenly day! :)

    -L

  • Ron in Houston

    We did not choose this issue; it chose us.

    Huh? That doesn’t make sense. Clearly, they are making the choice to interject themselves into the issue.

    NYC Atheists is not concerned about any “bad” public relations we would get by filing a suit. We have found the opposite to be true: We got 25 new members in the first week the story broke. Apparently a lot of people who have been silent are encouraging us now with their money and their presence in our ranks.

    Apparently the old maxim about there being no such thing as bad publicity holds true. However, you still will look like jerks causing problems for people trying to deal with grief.

    We have said publicly that we do not wish to change the names of places like “San Francisco.”

    Wimps

    I’m with you Hemant – the only reason this is getting press is the jerk factor. But hey, they got 25 new members!

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    If the Muslim prophet had taken the same approach that the NYC Atheists had taken, there would be no Islam today. If you look at the early verses of the Qur’an, Mohammed was exceedingly accommodating to other faiths and other tribes and races. As soon as he gained a degree of influence and power, he switched from nice guy to evil bad-ass. The rest is history.
    Ditto for many other (admittedly not all) movements…good or bad. My point? Now is the time to pick and choose our battles carefully and not come off as assholes. At this particular time in history, we don’t have the luxury to be pricks. And what they are considering is being prickish…and petty.
    Just because you can do something does not mean you should. For Jane Everhart to claim that they are incapable of controlling their own itinerary or agenda is beyond disingenuous, and smacks of some bullshit Wagnerian dribble about a greater destiny that fate has thrust upon them. Get over yourselves, folks. You’re great, but not that fucking great.
    The NYC Atheists need to set their egos aside and think about the good of the whole.

  • SeekerLancer

    The ignorance displayed in the “Do you want to have that conversation with your child?” is just painful.

    Keep on fighting windmills NYC Atheists. Enjoy your 15-minute media spotlight since I’m starting to think this is the only reason you’re doing this.

  • Whit

    I agree with many other commenters, in principle this is payed for by tax payer money, but if this suit goes through I think it’ll end like this: court at best says sign can’t go up and use tax payer money, sign supporters go to their churches, talk about the evil atheists whining about a memorial to 9-11 heros, gather a shit ton of donations, and the next head line is kind hearted generous Christians have gathered the funds to buy the sign, donate it all to the city, city takes it and it is a story about love conquering small mindedness.

    I’m with Hemant on this one.

  • Shane

    I agree with Jane Everhart. At a bare minimum, those supporting the sign should have to demonstrate that the dead firefighters were practicing Christians. I think it would be an insult to their memory if one was, for instance, a Buddhist. Since the whole process of figuring out what each firefighter believed at time of death would be ridiculous and open to error, it only makes sense not to do a religious sign at all, regardless of what the firefighters may have been called in the past. That should be clear to reasonable people when you explain it to them.

    As to it being a PR disaster… I’m not sure what people think every other atheist stand is. Every time a nativity scene or ten commandments is banned from public grounds people freak out. The “Atheism” brand has pretty low public appeal as demonstrated by national polls, and so the whole “negative publicity” angle really does not persuade me. What positive public perception is atheism supposedly endangering?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    I agree with Jane Everhart. At a bare minimum, those supporting the sign should have to demonstrate that the dead firefighters were practicing Christians. I think it would be an insult to their memory if one was, for instance, a Buddhist. Since the whole process of figuring out what each firefighter believed at time of death would be ridiculous and open to error, it only makes sense not to do a religious sign at all, regardless of what the firefighters may have been called in the past. That should be clear to reasonable people when you explain it to them.

    And what if we knew they were all Christians? Would that make NYC Atheists go, “Oh, ok, we’ll stop complaining now”? Would that make all the commenters here stop arguing?

    It wouldn’t and I wouldn’t expect them to. The principle here is the same: Whether the firefighters were al Christian or not is irrelevant. The sign shouldn’t be promoting religion like it is.

    (I, obviously, still question whether suing over it would be a wise tactical move.)

  • Larry Meredith

    Dark Jaguar makes a far more convincing point than Hemant. I still don’t agree with it, and I don’t think there should be an “Allah Avenue” either, but I guess as long as all religions and fictional people/places are being put on street signs then it’s alright.

    Hemant’s argument just sounds weak though. It doesn’t matter if your argument makes the general public think you’re a jerk. Sometimes the truth sucks, and you shouldn’t compromise on your principal purely because it’s unpopular.

  • Walter

    Issues like this street sign are nice benchmark tests to differentiate between friendly and unfriendly atheists. It’s silly, and it is doing more harm to all friendly atheists that any fundamentalist could do. Once again, without all those believers who believe in their gods and separation of church and state we, atheists will have hell of a job to form any coalition which would lead to political recognition of our existence. Why would any non-atheist citizen vote for an atheist if there is a chance that that atheist could turn out to be a jerk, like our friends from NYC. I would think that 25 new members for NYC isn’t that impressive, but what do I know.

  • David B.

    “[N]obody, nowhere, has complete freedom of speech. You cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre.”

    You can if there’s a fire.

    But even where there isn’t, you can as part of the play and you can as part of a fire drill. In fact, you can in any context where it might reasonably be expected that an average person would understand that there is no fire.

    I would not see “Seven-In-Heaven Way” as a literal statement anymore than I would “Tickle Cock Lane” (a real place in England). I might prefer it be called “Seven Heroes Way” or somesuch, but I view that the sentiment behind the name as something different to the explicit meaning.

    Frankly the behaviour of the NYCA strikes me as closer to that of the Pharisee from “Life of Brian”, who was out to stone someone for saying a piece of Halibut was good enough for Jehovah, than to anyone I would want to associate with.

  • C. McCallion-Davies

    Ok – it should have been paid for out of donations, maybe it still can be.

    They may have had new members since the news broke – but they may find that a lot more leave if they pursue this.

    If the families have agreed to this sign and feel it as an honour that they can gain comfort from – based on thier understanding of the world – then they are not being exploited surely? I haven’t yet seen any comments from the families, maybe this whole debate is too painful to them and they are keeping a dignified silence until it blows over.

    I had a conversation similar to the one described with my niece when she was about 6 or 7. We are a small family, not overtly religious, but the casual references to christianity were there throughout. I grew up to be an Atheist and my sister grew up to have other things to worry about! My niece had picked up on the fact that I do not believe in god and was worried I would go to hell. When I asked her (laughing) where she got that from she said from kids at school and just ‘around’, films and stuff. Once I had established that she was not being directly and deliberately indocrinated, I told her this: There are millions of people in the world, some believe in God, but they argue about who god is, they even go to war about it. But most believe that you are only good if you believe in THIER god. I told her that she knew me very well, knew what I did for a living (working with abused children outdoors in a natural setting) so did she think I was a Good Person? She said Yes, you are a lovely person, you are kind and you help people to be happy. Hmmm, so do you think that if there was a god he would forget all that and send me to hell? She said she didn’t know, he might. So I asked her if that wouldn’t make him a bit of a nasty, unloving bully? She laughed and agreed it would! Then she asked if she had to believe in god – I told what she had to do was use her wonderful clever brain, look around her, learn about the world and then make her own mind up about it. After all, she wasn’t going to die for years and years and years, she had plenty of time to decide. She is now 14 and 2 years ago she told me she had decided that there can’t be a god, because if he existed, he must be an idiot. If she had decided in favour of god? Well, I would have just continued to encourage her to think – and the older she got, the more we would have been able to debate it, but I would never approach it as a Hot Topic. (She actually got more upset with me when I called Michael Jackson “a squeaky dead freak”!!!)

  • Chris aka "Happy Cat"

    Claudia said:

    Wow, this rang all the “I don’t want to have to talk to my child about homosexuality!” bells.

    I had exactly the same reaction to their scenario. The talk could be a teachable moment with a child.

    Erin said:

    In principle, yeah, that guy’s an ass for eating food he didn’t pay for. But we can’t go around fighting every single snap pea eater in the world. Let’s focus on the bigger picture.

    This.

    I don’t necessarily agree with the street sign, but resources are not limitless. IMO, expensive litigation is not warranted or advised in every case.

  • GJHess890812

    If the 7 firefighters were nicknamed “7 in heaven,” then wouldn’t there be a valid secular purpose to naming the street that since the street is named after their nickname?

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I don’t think a lawsuit would get much support from atheists anywhere. This is a trivial issue and to dress it up as a church state violation makes atheists look silly. Heaven is such a generic concept you could take it anyway you want to. Sure we know there’s no afterlife, heavenly or otherwise but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the concept as a metaphor.

  • Skepacabra

    Hope that whopping 25 people covers their losses w/ this dumb publicity stunt. It did “choose you” & will be another PR disaster & would be the most liberal interpretation of the law I’ve ever heard, NYC ATHEISTS represents their own interests, not mine.

  • Josh

    I think it’s silly to be in favor of changing this and not in favor of changing San Francisco. Also Santa Fe, Saint Paul, probably Providence, maybe Atlanta, and ten thousand other names. I read their reasoning, but I don’t buy it. I draw my lines on either side of my principles, not through the middle. If something is wrong in principle then it’s always wrong, no? If it’s not, then shut the hell up and start taking about something more important.

    I COULD support the idea of a lawsuit, but not if they stopped after this. There is just no way I could rationalize singling out one street. That’s as bad as bible verse cherry-picking, probably worse because we should know better than that by now.

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s a big deal. All in all I’d say leave it alone.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    The problem is that atheism doesn’t seem to do anything other than erase religion from the public square. That is our sole mission. And for some reason these silly people like their imaginary friends. And they make up 90 percent of the population. And sure, it’s not about being popular, but if asked most people who they would trust baby sitting their kids, an atheist or Casey Anthony, a good stupid percentage of them would choose the child murderer.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    @Molls:

    If those seven believed in an afterlife, I would like to think that we can allow their families to be comforted by this belief.

    Do you think they need a street sign to do that then?

  • puckishone

    Just want to de-lurkificate for a moment and add to the list of those for whom the “I don’t want to have that conversation with my child” argument rings hollow. As others pointed out, this is exactly the same argument given by the religious in the debate over gay marriage. It’s also been used, IIRC, regarding the visibility of atheists in the public sphere, which makes the NY Atheists’ argument even more tenuous, in my opinion. What this IS a great example of is how we’re all human beings and have the same faulty thought processes. Not even we atheists are immune to special pleading.

  • Tomaz79

    So does a street named “Harry Potter Lane” endorse the view that Harry Potter is real?
    A bit silly, isn’t it?

  • http://www.neamhspleachas.com Molls

    @deen

    Memorials of any stripe are rarely “needed.” They don’t “need” a plaque at Ground Zero, you don’t “need” a tombstone, etc. That’s not really the question here.

  • pendragon

    I can’t see any upside to a lawsuit over this. No way it will succeed, and it will probably increase opposition.

    I can see an enormous downside in terms of turning atheist reactions into a joke, something to laugh off and ignore.

    You have to choose your battles, and I can’t see any way this one is a good choice.

  • frank

    On item number 2, I think Jane is wrong to concede “that the First Amendment says merely that the state cannot establish a religion.” What the first amendment says is that the state cannot make a law “respecting an establishment of religion.” The verb there, the thing the government is not allowed to do, is to respect, not to establish. What the first amendment actually says is a much stronger statement than merely that the state cannot establish a religion. Once we allow our opponents to get away with substituting their prefered verb for the verb that is actually in the amendment, we have lost the debate. Anyone with half a brain can tell that most of the things we object to as establishment clause violations don’t constitute a state established religion, and if we try to tell them they do we will look stupid.

    On the bigger PR point, I agree with Hemant, AA is right on the principle, but this is not the ground we want to fight on.

  • fuzzybunnyslipperz

    I 100% agree with her. If we as Atheists want change it has to start somewhere. The way I see the issue with the street sign is at the very core of what we have been asking, begging and fighting for. To not have to endure religious propaganda in public places. It is just like with the billboard, okay it was on church property we can be nice and let them move it. But now a business demanded it be moved and in trying to be once again “nice” did not make a fuss about it.

    If we truely want to have equal voice in the country we need to speak up loud and clear. “We are here! We are here!” ~Dr. Suess Horton Hears A Who.

    If we are unwilling to stand up to even what seems like a little thing and let the religious once again use tax dollars to spread their propaganda, then they will feel free to steamroller over us in other ways and we will never really have an equal say, or equal amounts of free speech. It turns once again into that old stance of the religious right screaming for freedom of speech and everyone else can have some too just not as much and just as long as it doesn’t go against anything they say.

  • qwertyuiop

    but I don’t think most Americans see this as an infringement of anyone’s rights or an endorsement of religion.

    Most Americans are religious and therefore this statement can apply to any church/state violation.

    As for PR, the majority of America despises atheists no matter what we do. They’d all prefer that we all just disappear along with the homos.

    We might as well fight for what’s right everywhere and whenever we can. When a simple truthful common sense statement like “you can be good without God” causes these people to freak out and commit vandalism, we might as well forget about PR.

  • Beriaal

    I’m with the NYC Atheists on this one; though I’m not impressed by their PR guy’s list…

    If I were one of the deceased firefighters, I wouldn’t want my death anyhow associated with religion, and therefore, with that sign.

    I couldn’t care less if that’s bad PR for the atheist community.

  • Melody

    @Dark Jaguar I live in Harrodsburg, Ky and I’m not sure where you’re going with that example. Harrodsburg is named after Fort Harrod which was established by James Harrod as the first settlement in Kentucky.

    However, I don’t disagree with your point.

  • JenV

    Just because you can do something does not mean you should.

    Exactly.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    My fundi friends might point out that if not all of those 7 were actually saved (and of the “right” denomination), then they won’t be in heaven. For example, if just two were saved, then the sign should read “2 in heaven, 5 in hell way”. I wonder if any fundamentalist Christians (heaven through faith, not actions) will sue over this. Constitutional reasons aside, most people would view the NYC Atheist lawsuit as much in bad taste as a hypothetical fundamentalist Christian lawsuit.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com Yet Another Atheist

    But nobody, nowhere, has complete freedom of speech. You cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre. You cannot slander or defame somebody.

    This doesn’t mean we don’t have complete freedom of speech. It simply means that our freedoms end where they infringe upon the freedoms of others.

    There are carefully thought-out reasons why certain forms of speech and expression are not protected: they are meant to cause harm and have no purpose in terms of expressing a point of view or opinion, or they infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others (like shoving religion down our throats does).

    Comparing putting up a sign to willfully causing harm and destruction to either person or good name is a ridiculous notion.

    I’m with her on certain points in her email, such as their not being able to shove religion down our throats, but I’d hardly classify this as forcing anything down anybody’s throats. This isn’t a monument to the Ten Commandments; it’s a street sign. If my child asks me what it means, it’s my responsibility to explain it, and I’ll do just fine doing so.

  • Suzanne

    Well I’ve had conversations like that plenty of times with my daughter when she was small. It gives a chance to explain what religious people believe and sounds as ridiculous as we all think it does when you just explain in a straight forward way.

    If NYC Athiests want to sue, how will that really hurt athiest’s images? The people who want to believe hateful things about us already do. The rational people will see it as a small group within the larger athiest “community”.

    For me, the sign is an annoyance but piled on top of so many other annoyances I can see how they would want to sue.

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    We did not choose this issue; it chose us. Once it broke in the newspapers, all hell broke loose. Nationwide! And now, Reuters has made it worldwide.

    This part was ambiguous. Was adding the street sign a national / international story and THEN your group started to complain about it?

    Or was it a local story and the complaint from NYC atheists is what made it a national / international story?

  • Michelle

    Yeah, you will not win me over with a ‘what about the children’ argument. If you can’t talk to your children, don’t blame a sign.

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    @Suzanne

    If NYC Athiests want to sue, how will that really hurt athiest’s images? The people who want to believe hateful things about us already do. The rational people will see it as a small group within the larger athiest “community”.

    That might work if, say, American Atheists had a positive reputation.

  • Michael

    Hemant, are you trolling Jane Everhart?
    What she is saying is that the issue has already gotten a lot of attention without them.
    Yes, her final point is a weak emotional argument, but that doesn’t mean you get to ignore all of the other ones.
    Look at #5 again: the exploitation of these firefighters by the church is probably the best defense NYCA has right now against emotional attacks.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    (sigh)

    it’s their choice to win a pyrrhic victory: they will be reviled as haters if they win, and will have resigned a legal point if they lose (viz: “under God” in the pledge)

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    What she is saying is that the issue has already gotten a lot of attention without them.

    But is this true?

    A Google search for “seven in heaven way” sorted oldest first brings up local NYC articles starting June 11. By June 19 & 20, the local articles start to mention atheists complaining about it…and THEN the street name story gets picked up in national media.

  • sailor

    Although this probably makes no difference legally, it seems to me how this name was chosen is important. If that was the name requested by all the relatives of the dead, it would seem a bit churlish to go after it in court. If it was decided by someone (or a group) of religious people looking to exploit those seven dead, some of whom were not even Christian, then sue them….

  • CdaHumanist

    I’m going to sue because every time I see that picture the stupid them song from the TV series “7th Heaven” pops into my head.

    That theme song, incidentally, was written and performed by the lead singer of the 80′s hair metal band Autograph (Turn Up The Radio one-hit-wonder). So, I think that proves that washed up metalheads DO go to heaven…

  • Joeh

    This is what religion likes to do. Insert itself into places where any objection is met with things like, “What? You don’t want to honor firefighters?”

  • Ibis3

    Are the NYC Atheists honestly proposing that no streets or places can be named with mythological figures or concepts? No “Apollo’s Way”s, no “Angel Drive”s, no “Jupiter Street”s, no “Paradise Boulevard”s, no “Fairy Crescent”s, no “Valhalla Road”s, no “Hell’s Kitchen”s? Ridiculous.

    Plus, this is the nickname of a group. No “New Jersey Devils Lane”s or “Anaheim Angels Park”s or streets named after Nirvana (the band), or Frankie Avalon?

    I seriously can’t believe that anyone would find this street naming in any way connected with an establishment of religion.

    And let me add to the chorus of people who are disgusted by the “protect the children” argument. It’s really quite revolting to hear that stupid and vile argument trotted out by someone not calling for oppression in the name of prudery. Not only is it used to advocate keeping homosexuality itself in the closet (not to mention transsexuality and non-binary gender), but also for withholding life-saving information and resources from teens (especially girls). Also, this as well as her other arguments are just mind-numbingly dumb.

  • Rich Hugunine

    I suppose every movement has its militant nut jobs, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss Everhart or her organization’s work out of hand. I have nothing in particular against the efforts of a militant atheism, but I disagree with it and I choose not to support it. There’s plenty of room on the band wagon for everyone and in the end we’ll all come out ahead.

  • Surgoshan

    I think this is Christian privilege in a nutshell. I know it’s a PR disaster and I know we can’t win, but it’s not about winning. It’s about fighting and educating the public that, no, they’re not right to assume that everyone is like them. They’re not right to put the Christian stamp on everything. They’re just not right. They don’t have the right.

    We can’t win. Yet.

  • Annie

    “We did not choose this issue; it chose us.”

    To some, this may sound as if she is implying some divine intervention… poor word choice.

    I wonder why the NYC Atheists didn’t go to the city council meeting and make their objections publicly known before the sign was constructed and installed? Oh, right. They didn’t choose the issue.

    Sorry, I just can’t get behind this fight. To me, the use of the term heaven is ambiguous, and it is based after a nickname for a small group of people. The sign is not a memorial to all who died in 9-11, but a memorial for seven specific people, who have been referred to all along as the “seven in heaven”.

  • Michael

    Are people living near Unicorn Street in Vegas more likely to believe in unicorns?

  • Rich Wilson

    When are we going to sue over the days of the week?

  • http://happyatheists.com Slickninja

    Can we sue USGS for listing Christchurch, NZ on maps next?

  • Mr Z

    It might seem such a small issue that it is not worth the effort or risk of bad PR, but then Rosa Parks was just one woman on one bus.

    This apologetic, ‘convenience’ atheism is exactly why I don’t want to be part of your ‘community’ anymore.

    Yes, I’m just one dissenter on one blog, but think about it. You are attempting to modify the behavior of others. Not because their behavior is wrong but because you think it will put you in a bad light. Every disagreement over church vs. state issues IS important. To give ground on them just so you don’t seem like a dick is like soft evangelicalism that won’t directly criticize gay marriage but works behind the scenes to prevent it.

    You might have a valid position if it were easy to get a street named ‘NoGod Way’ in the same town.
    Accomplish that and I’ll agree with you that this sign story is a tempest in a teacup.

    The cause of equality is being harmed here, whether you can see it or not. Nice going.

  • Vanessa

    Agree with everything you said, Hemant. I’m still waiting for someone to give me a solid reason why *anyone* should be offended by this sign, or how this goes against the Constitution in any way.

  • Nathan H.

    My take on this:

    They are picking a fight just to pick a fight. They’re bored, and looking, IMO, for notoriety.

    I’m an atheist, too, and not an accomodationist by any means. Indeed, I’m somewhat of an antitheist. But I also know what fights too pick. “In God We Trust”, “Under God”, religious displays on government buildings… these are things we should be fighting. They may give us bad publicity, but their outcomes will ultimately have greater positive effects.

    But this street sign will make no difference in the long run. It will ultimately just become another direction:

    “Yeah, you’ll take a right off of 7 in Heaven, and your destination should be immediately to your left.”

    Oh! Gee! The horror! Just look at that subliminal proselytizing!

    This is a bad idea. NYC atheists are just being bullies, now. They should stop.

  • Glenn Davey

    Wow, when I was reading what they wrote I really got the feeling like – holy shit, these are some crazy freaky serious bloody atheists… They are some motivated, determined people… And they seem to look at the world with kind of a … SLANT… no?

    I just got the heebie jeebies from that letter.

  • slan21

    Well, i thought i shared more in common with most atheist organisations… Here i’d be in the side of the people calling them assholes. I did’nt think the aim of those atheists was to remove every reference from public space to whatever is somehow linked to religion…
    As pointed out in other comments, heaven is a very common term which can be used with different meanings, including non religious ones.
    I don’t know what kind of novlang they want to create, censoring everything from our cultural legacy, which includes religion. It seems a terribly arrogant, and dangerous attitude.

  • Glenn Davey

    frank:

    you seem to misunderstand that the word “respecting” is often used to mean “with regards to”.

  • Kerri

    I, for one, don’t care. The fact that this is a memorial makes it a fight I don’t want to be involved in. The “discussion with my child” argument is somewhat offensive because that is the same type of thing a Christian would say about the gay issue and their own children. Having discussions with a child is necessary when you’re a parent and the subjects won’t always be fuzzy and fluffy. And I doubt a street sign such as this is going to push any fence-sitters over into the Christian camp. We have much more important issues to discuss and find consensus with… I certainly wouldn’t sue over this issue and the NYC Atheists are not doing any of us any good with their lawsuit.

  • jake

    To add a bit to what frank said about “the First Amendment says merely that the state cannot establish a religion.” based on my interpretation:

    The word “establishment” is a noun. This does not mean it has to be a structure nor a body of people. It simply means “something which has been established”. To establish something is to “bring it into being”.
    Anything which has been brought into being by religion is “an establishment of religion”. This should include every religiously based idea or belief; anything that lacks supporting evidence. NO law should respect an establishment of this sort.

    It saddens me that there is so much debate over the interpretation of the amendment since this was surely debated heavily at the time of its writing, and the founding fathers spoke English so there shouldn’t be translation concerns.

  • Nordog

    To add a bit to what frank said about “the First Amendment says merely that the state cannot establish a religion.” based on my interpretation:

    The word “establishment” is a noun. This does not mean it has to be a structure nor a body of people. It simply means “something which has been established”. To establish something is to “bring it into being”.

    Yes, but let’s not forget, the clause does not say “state” it says “Congress” shall not…etc.

    If one is going to pic the nit that “establishment” is not a verb, one can at least acknowledge that this street sign is not being put up by an act of Congress.

  • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leia

    How militant are they going to be about this? I understand the principle of the fight, but I don’t see where it will stop. Are the NY Atheists just going to fight religious street signs that represent current day religions, just this one street sign, or everything in the country that has a hint of religious color? (I don’t know how I feel about the grandfather clause.)

    So many wonderful things have been sparked by religious imagination. We have beautiful architecture and art because of religion. How far does this go? Are they just nitpicking THIS?

    I understand the principle and I know the horrible things religion has caused. So, please, don’t lecture me. :)

    Honestly, if this is a battle they want to fight, can you imagine how much tax payer money will it take to go back through the country to change every street sign, park name, city name, etc, that has a spark of religious meaning? Because it would almost be pointless to stop at this one street sign, pointless to have a grandfather clause. What if I go to an older neighborhood and I come across a ‘Heaven Way’… AHHH!!! Uncomfortable questions!!!

    It would lead me to believe, if they stopped after this one, like they were zeroing in on this one example to make a point. Which I don’t agree with.

    All kidding aside, that statement regarding thinking about myself before atheism, as a mother, wanting to avoid a question from my child, made my tummy cringe. I was once on the fence about religion and no matter what my personal struggles were, I have never backed down from an honest question from my children. Maybe, just maybe, an uncomfortable question from a child would be enough to push a borderline religious person into a moment of realism and rational thinking. Because I KNOW that having children is something that helped me on my journey from religion to atheism.

    If this is about the principle, they cannot just stop here.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    Hemant wrote

    I know we want to argue church/state separation is at play here, but I don’t think most Americans see this as an infringement of anyone’s rights or an endorsement of religion. By drawing more attention to this issue, we’re just giving more people a reason to dislike us.

    I’m sorry, Hemant, but that’s where you slide from “the friendly atheist” to “the flaccid atheist.”

    A while back I wrote a post on Panda’s Thumb called The Casual Assumption of Privilege. The street name at issue is another instance of that religious assumption of privilege, and resisting it in the face of “most Americans” is to resist the casual assumption that pervades our theism-soaked culture. We must do that or sit off in the corner depending on the self-restraint of theists and hoping someday to be admitted as full citizens.

  • http://whatthefaith.wordpress.com Jaime Delgado

    Uh, Nordog, you’re wrong. Under the “due process” clause of the 14th Amendment, the entire Bill of Rights applies to the states. The government at all levels must respect the separation of church and state.

  • matt

    Let’s not fight for what we believe in because it might make someone think we’re a jerk? C’mon, that’s ridiculous. Someone should have told Rosa Parks it was just a bus seat, and everyone was going to think she was being a bitch about making an issue of walking an extra 20 feet.

    If you have principles you believe in, they are worth fighting for. Even if it makes you unpopular. We’re already the least popular group out there, so what’s gonna happen?

  • Elly

    For me, the deciding factor would be: how do the families of the deceased feel? While this may be a public display, those guys had families: spouses, children, parents, siblings. If the lawsuit causes them pain, then yes… it’s a PR disaster in the making. If, on the other hand, one or more of them are supportive, it could be worth it, since it would be clear that the city went too far.

    I “get” the principle involved and support it (although, judging by my own kids, the point made by Everhart about having to explain it to your 5-year old is beyond stupid). But with living, grieving family members in the mix, this is a fight that we could easily lose, even if we win it.

  • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

    The claim that this is religious ‘advertising’ is just absurd. It is simply naming a place after a term of endearment. What opposing this shows is simply a group who is so intolerant of anything religious that they can’t even allow a nickname to honour some people who gave their lives for others.

  • Nordog

    Sure Matt, Jane Everhart is the new Rosa Park.

    Yeah, right.

    As has been hinted to here already, this is less about any constitutional separation of church and state and more an exercise in expressing wholesale intolerance of religious expression in the culture.

    Good luck with that.

  • matt

    @ Dark Jaguar

    Are you cool with those school displays that have lots of “historical documents” including the 10 commandments? Because our legal system has decided time and again that those are unconstitutional.

    Other than that, you raise some good points about alternative street names. However, this name seems pretty unambiguously referring to the fact that these seven people are in Heaven. Not “happy new agey metaphorical heaven.” Heaven with a capital H, jesus heaven.

    Nobody in their right mind thinks it means “7 who could be in this interesting philosophical construct that could represent utopia even though it might have other religious connotations.” Come on. That’s just silly.

  • treedweller

    I recently got into an argument where people were debating a shirt that said “Straight Pride”. Someone said, “I don’t care who you have sex with, just don’t wear it on a shirt so I don’t have to answer questions from my kids about it.”

    My response to her was the same as to #10 above: God forbid you should have to talk to your kids. You chose to be a parent, now own up to your responsibility. It is your job to answer your kids’ questions.

    Otherwise, I pretty much agree with Hemant–prefer the sign was not there, but it ain’t worth alienating the believers over it.

  • Nordog

    This is number 9 from Ms. Parks, er, ah, I mean Ms. Everhart:

    Are we denying religious advocates their freedom of speech? No. They can spout their religious aphorisms in their churches, in their homes, on their private property. They just can’t do it in public places where it constitutes forcing their religion in our faces. But nobody, nowhere, has complete freedom of speech. You cannot yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre. You cannot slander or defame somebody.

    Last I checked, constitutionally protected freedom of speech includes people of faith expressing their faith in public. I am unaware of any court ruling equating religious expression with slander or inciting riotous mobs in theaters running for their lives.

    Regardless of whether or not this sign is paid for with public funds, or does or does not run afoul of “separation” issues, Reason #9 here is not predicated on those questions.

    Rather it holds that religous expression must be contained within entirely private boundaries and that such expression in the public arena is not to be tolerated at all.

    Good luck with that.

    (move along now; no Stalinist thinking to be seen here)

  • frank

    Nordog,

    You are correct that the first amendment origionally applied only to congress. However, more than half a century of supreme court cases on the subject have said that the first amendments protections of religious liberty are part of the “liberty” protected by the 14th amendments due process clause. Since the 14th amendment does apply to state and local governments, it applies to the government that put up this sign. Even the most conservative justices on the supreme court will agree that today the first amendment applies just as much to state and local governments as it does to the federal government.

  • Trace

    I first said meh…now I say umh….

    For those who think of this in terms of a big PR no-no… How is this different from accomodationim?

  • Kenny

    I’m with Jane. No compromise EVER

  • Meyekael

    The reason I can’t get on board with this is that this sign just doesn’t set off my religion proximity alarm. Seven in Heaven? Sounds like something gamblers shout when they roll a seven shooting craps.

  • Erik

    I can see several arguments for removing the sign, but I disagree with most of the reasons this group gave.

    I agree with them that suing is a good way to change things. I don’t think they should be bragging about lawsuits of theirs that have been thrown out of court. Makes them seem unintelligent.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    Nordog wrote

    Last I checked, constitutionally protected freedom of speech includes people of faith expressing their faith in public. I am unaware of any court ruling equating religious expression with slander or inciting riotous mobs in theaters running for their lives.

    Regardless of whether or not this sign is paid for with public funds, or does or does not run afoul of “separation” issues, Reason #9 here is not predicated on those questions.

    What part of ‘Not on the government’s time, not on the government’s dime’ is hard for you to understand? This is not “people of faith expressing their faith in public,’ it’s a government agency using government money to express those people’s faith, and the Constitution and a whole lot of case law based on it define that as out of bounds.

  • http://kaessa.com Kaessa

    Picture this. You, B.A. (before Atheism), are walking by the “Seven in Heaven” street sign with your 5-year-old kid. He says, “What does that mean, Mommy? ” You say, “It means seven brave firefighters died in the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11.” “Why are they in Heaven, Mommy?” “Well, that’s their reward, son, for being heroes.” “Will I go to heaven, Mommy?” “Well, um, if you are good.” “Will you go to heaven too, Mommy?” “Well, I guess so.” “Will I be there with you, Mommy?” You, bristling: “Well, look, I don’t know.”

    Seriously? Now we’re going to sound like the fundies who don’t want to have to tell their kids about the gay people?

    “What’s heaven, Mommy?” “It’s a place where some people think they go when they die.” “Do you think that?” “No.” “Ok.”

    When they get older, you have more in depth discussions. I’ve had many of these talks. Honestly, do you think you’re going to hide the concept of heaven from a kid in this country?

  • Nordog

    What part of ‘Not on the government’s time, not on the government’s dime’ is hard for you to understand? This is not “people of faith expressing their faith in public,’ it’s a government agency using government money to express those people’s faith, and the Constitution and a whole lot of case law based on it define that as out of bounds.

    Yeah, you need to re-read what I wrote (and not just the part you quoted).

    I wasn’t talking about “the sign” in New York. I was addressing the argument (such that it is) presented in “Number 9.”

    That argument, while being used to argue against the sign, is much more broad and categorical.

    It doesn’t speak of “the government’s dime.”

    It speaks of speech in public.

    Now, while all government actions can be called public, not all public actions are governmental.

    Taken at its word, Number 9 is against any public expression of faith.

    For Ms. Everhart, freedom of speech for religious expression is fine as long as it’s sequestered away within private property and not in public. The argument is that once religious speech is made in public, once it “spouts” outside of the containment zone, it is on par with slander and inciting mass hysteria.

    What part of…

    They just can’t do it in public places where it constitutes forcing their religion in our faces.

    …do you not understand?

    It says…

    “…in public spaces…’

    Not,

    “…paid for by government…”

    According to those lights, public expression of faith is an assault.

    I’m curious. Do you think the government should restrict religious expression to only within homes and churches?

  • Dark Jaguar

    @ Melody

    Sorry about the confusion. I wasn’t really talking about the town name, but the street name Allah Avenue. I only included the full address because A; I was too lazy to cut it down when I copy/pasted and B; to make it easier for others to confirm it. Mostly A though. (I really hope I used the dastardly semicolon correctly there.)

    @ Matt

    “Are you cool with those school displays that have lots of “historical documents” including the 10 commandments? Because our legal system has decided time and again that those are unconstitutional.”

    Depends on the nature of the display. Referring to the 10 commandments as a “historical document” isn’t really accurate, but referring to it as a “religious document” would be, and would be in place if the school decided to have a large display of religious document along with it with the goal of educating kids about various religions (in our world, it can be considered important to be aware of various religions just to get by). If however it was next to the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independance, it gives the idea that it’s something important in the context of the basis or history of the US government, which just isn’t true. In that case, it’s display would certainly be inappropriate in a way that would warrent a lawsuit. I’d also say that if it was displayed without context, simply put up on walls around the school.

    The fact is, when I first heard this I was actually starting to side with them but I had to really think about it, and eventually concluded that a street sign, at least to me (and keep in mind I do live in the bible belt, whatever effect that might have on my perspective) is more along the lines of “flavor” than an actual government endorsement of religion, needing no more explanation to kids asking questions than a street named after Elmo. (I had to check, yep, Elmo’s Way, Tatitlek, AK.) For more details on what I mean by that, see my next response.

    “Other than that, you raise some good points about alternative street names. However, this name seems pretty unambiguously referring to the fact that these seven people are in Heaven. Not “happy new agey metaphorical heaven.” Heaven with a capital H, jesus heaven.

    Nobody in their right mind thinks it means “7 who could be in this interesting philosophical construct that could represent utopia even though it might have other religious connotations.” Come on. That’s just silly.”

    Yeah, that would be silly. I wasn’t one of the people here who interpreted it that way though. Rather, I interpreted it as referring specifically to the group in question by the name they came to be known by. Now that nickname clearly came about because the families believed they were in heaven, but what’s done is done. The alternative would be naming 7 different streets after one fire fighter each. That would be preferable if there were that many new streets near each other needing a name, but there’s some practical considerations. Another one, as I had mentioned before, is simply that once a group comes to be known by one name, changing it without warning is simply confusing. 7 Heroes Way actually sounds pretty good to me, but many might not know for sure what that’s referring to, and more to the point, regardless of religious reasons, that’s what the families have come to know them as, and it’s disrespectful to change that. That’s not because it disrespects their religious views, but because saying “nah you should call them something else” is kind of rude. There are some differences, but to give a similar example, consider someone saying a road dedicated to a son named Joseph had to be changed because the kid was obviously named after the biblical character, so someone suggests simply naming it after the kid’s last name. Granted, this Joseph person would have been called that his entire life, whereas this Seven in Heaven group only got that name in death, but the name stuck.

    Essentially, once we start saying roads can’t be named after any religious figures or fictional concepts at all, we’re saying that artistic license in street names isn’t important any more. That might be true, but at that point let’s just go with my own preference and make street names entirely utilitarian in grid based city layouts, with all streets on one axis named with letters, and on the other axis named with numbers (in Tulsa, one axis is numbers but the other is standard names, like Memorial, Riverside and Sheridan).

  • Skepacabra

    I wonder when NYC Atheists will start thei equally popular “We think Hitler had some good ideas” campaign.

  • Jeff

    We did not choose this issue; it chose us.

    Oh, please. That’s as far as I got. Get over yourself.

  • Drew M.

    The church has become expert at subliminal religious imprinting.

    This is the most unintentionally hilarious thing I’ve read in months.

    I have no doubt that churches seek any and all methods of promoting Christianity, but the way this is phrased smacks of paranoid blathering by a tinfoil hatted loon.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    Nordog asked me

    I’m curious. Do you think the government should restrict religious expression to only within homes and churches?

    No. (Though I wouldn’t mind at all if theists decided to do so on their own.)

  • Drew M.

    I feared my initial reply was a bit too abrasive when I posted it (It was deleted). Let me try again.

    10. …Do you want to go through that conversation with your child? I don’t…

    This is the same justification the religious right uses to suppress marriage equality, among other things. I’m rather put off that someone supposedly on our side would resort to the same tactics.

  • Meyekael

    The point is that “Seven in Heaven” is not an establishment of religion, it’s a name that has been given to 7 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11 in the performance of their duties.

    It may have religious connotations for some, but its denotative meaning has nothing to do with religion.

  • J2thed2000

    you guys are beyond stupid …..you hate those who “force shit upon you ” but you are doing the same stupid shit


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