The Offensive Battle Over “Seven in Heaven Way”

"There goes Fred, getting all religious again...."

With some hesitation, I must re-open the issue of officious inter-meddlers and grievance-mongerers who get satisfaction and empowerment from claiming to be offended by things that could not possibly harm them or genuinely infringe on their rights. The atheists are at it again.

My position has been stated here and elsewhere many times: in the absence of genuine long or short term harm, the ethical human response to a symbolic grievance is to keep one’s response proportional to the offense, which sometimes means considering how many individuals will be made miserable in order to satisfy one individual or a small group, and letting it go. Forcing a university to change the long-standing name of its football team based on a dubious argument that the name is an offense to Native Americans when most Native Americans couldn’t care less, for example, is wrong. Forcing a school to stop teaching kindergarteners to sing “Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer” because a Jewish parent thinks the song promotes Christianity is wrong.

Now a group of New York City atheists is demanding that their city re-name a street that was dedicated to the memory of seven firefighters killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.  The Brooklyn street is now called “Seven in Heaven Way,” officially named last weekend  outside the firehouse where the perished firefighters once served, in a ceremony attended by dozens of firefighters, city leaders and family members. The atheists say the sign violates the separation of church and state. This is one of the purest examples of grievance bullying and misuse of special interest power I have ever seen.

“There should be no signage or displays of religious nature in the public domain,” Ken Bronstein, president of New York City Atheists, said. “It’s really insulting to us.” Bronstein said that his organization was especially concerned with the use of the word “heaven.” “We’ve concluded as atheists there is no heaven and there’s no hell,” he said. “And it’s a totally religious statement. It’s a question of separation of church and state.”

Right. And “All Dogs Go to Heaven” was a religious movie, as was “Heaven Can Wait.” And those Chock Full O’ Nuts commercials calling it a “heavenly coffee” insulted Ken and his pals too, whether they drink coffee or not. Fred Astaire was proselytizing when he sang “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” to Ginger Rogers (“Heaven…I’m in Heaven!”)

And that’s just the word “heaven”…what about angels? Ken’s atheists are under assault everywhere by those pesky angels! Elvis is singing that “she walks like an angel,” and there is a whole city in California called Los Angeles, and the supermarket is selling angel food cake…wait! What about devil’s food cake? All those references to the devil promote religion too…and they’re everywhere! “Damn Yankees,” the classic musical, has a devil in it—that means it’s a religious show! Insult! In Illinois there’s a hill called “Devil’s Bake Oven,” another hill called “Devil’s Backbone,” and an area called “Devil’s Kitchen.” Get over to Illinois, Ken and protest: Illinois is promoting religion. So is Wisconsin, which has a Devil’s Lake.

In fact, I think Ken is obligated to spend his life trying to expunge all cultural references to religion and religious lore, including  metaphors and allusions, from the American scene, because their very existence offends him and his deadly serious band of atheists.

No, not really. I think Ken needs to get a life. I think Ken needs to learn that a rhyming street name about “Seven in Heaven” no more promotes a religion within the meaning of the Establishment Clause than “Dancing Cheek to Cheek,” that it was nice, memorable way to say that the firefighters had died, were heroes, and lived on in the fond memories of their families and the city they died for. I think Ken needs to learn that there is a time and place to take a stand, and taking a stand regarding a street honoring  9-11 victims is petty, obnoxious, and wrong.

The kind of doctrinaire, unyielding, bullying self-righteousness that Ken’s atheists are engaging in is exactly the kind of intolerant and oppressive conduct that atheists justly criticize organized religion for engaging in over the centuries. If the existence of one street named to salve the grief of the families of fallen firefighters really is that psychologically traumatizing to the atheists, the most practical remedy is an army of psychiatrists.

From an ethical standpoint, the atheist protest fails every standard and test. It does not pass the Golden Rule’s standards. If we were to hold every New York City street sign to the standard that not one person or group could be offended by its name, the only streets that would be able to keep their names would be the numbered ones, and not all of those. (Anti-obesity groups would surely object to the candy bar-evoking 5th Avenue, and anti-violence groups might be offended by 10th Avenue, the setting for the tragic “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” ballet). Thus the Rule of Universality fails.

As for utilitarianism, there is no contest. On one side, we have a fitting and touching honor for heroic dead  that cheers their families and inspires their colleagues and profession, without any reference to a particular religion, or, to anyone rational, any religion. On the other, there is only capitulation to a trumped-up imaginary offense to a small group of atheists that sets an absurd precedent, and also undermines the cause of atheists by making them appear to the public as callously contemptuous of community sentiments. Which side represents the greater good, Ken? It should be an easy question.

We can argue about what kind of offense justifies taking a principled stand, but Seven in Heaven Street is so far from being genuinely and reasonable offensive that it doesn’t belong in the discussion.  The New York City Atheists are grievance bullies, nothing more, and nothing less.

113 thoughts on “The Offensive Battle Over “Seven in Heaven Way”

  1. I meant to post that story about “Seven In Heaven Way” on my Facebook page, but never got around to it. That is about as transparent a publicity/power play as I’ve ever seen by one of these professional protest groups. But I think it’s going to backfire on them. Even in liberal Brooklyn, there’s the memory of 9/11 and an inherent respect for the memory of their native sons who perished in the line of duty. These people have become used to being kowtowed to for too long. And, as with most such cases, they’ve pushed their agenda right to the breaking point of public tolerance.

  2. 1. In a strange coincidence, I have Heaven Can Wait from Netflix right now. I’m about to watch it. I think God made that happen. It’s the only explanation.

    2. I wanna start an Agnostic Society, where we can still oppose crap like Intelligent Design and other stuff that actually effects people, but we let the little stuff slide.

    • Which version, Jeff? In any case, it was only a Hollywood fantasy, not a serious exercise of Christian philosophy. Nor is this power attempt by the atheists a matter of “little stuff”. Little stuff- when we let it “slide”- can quickly grow to gargantuan proportions. And if you don’t like Intelligent Design, that’s your own problem. Nobody’s pushing you to accept it. But atheists are pushing you to accept their beliefs… in an unending variety of “little” ways.

      • Maybe I should have specified “Intelligent Design in schools,” where pushing schools to accept it was a real thing not long ago (not sure how big it is now).

        The rest of your post, I can’t really see which way you go down on this.

      • Entertainingly, SMP made Ken’s point: “Little stuff- when we let it “slide”- can quickly grow to gargantuan proportions.”

        The rest is bullshit. Ken’s not pushing anyone to accept his lack of beliefs, he’s simply fighting against the government pushing their beliefs on others. He’s telling religion: You’re not special, and you have to play by the rules. Apparently, that’s proselytizing now.

        Steven Mark Pilling has no desire to have a discussion. His only desire is to spread his unfounded opinions. If challenged on any of his “facts,” he resorts to dissembling and avoidance. I have given up on him.

        See https://ethicsalarms.com/2011/02/14/the-huffington-post-bloggers-lament/comment-page-1/#comment-10744 and his response https://ethicsalarms.com/2011/02/14/the-huffington-post-bloggers-lament/comment-page-1/#comment-10748 as an example of this behavior. That entire thread is well worth a read before deciding to engage with this poster.

        • Dear Miss Tiggy: WHAT is this obsession you seem to have toward my commentary? Everytime I offer an opinion the contrary to your’s (which is, admittedly, often!) you start a campaign of animosity. Thus, you resort to much the same thing you accuse me of. This is “dissembling” at its worst. I still fail to see how my comments back in February are, somehow, proof of misbehavior! I would suggest, though, that any reader who’s actually interested in anything I’ve had to say on a particular post read the full context of my arguments. Might I suggest, TGT, that your objections are not to the allegedly unethical content of my posts, but that they’re more coherent than your’s? This would certainly explain why you’ve “given up” on me! I, however, have not given up on you. God bless you.

          • Excellent, the context of your arguments shows just how horrible they are. There’s no point in arguing with someone who ignores reason, moves the goalposts, argues from a place of privilege, projects, builds strawmen, poisons the well, begs the question, and refuses to admit when he’s called on each and every one. Blatantly. In just the last post, you committed 3 of these.

    • Congratulations, you’re an accomodationist. You’re the equivalent of a black person telling Rosa parks to shut up and move to the back of the bus- it wasn’t that important.

          • I might have to. I can’t believe you posted this and then 2 days later wrote about the dangers of superstition. It’s bad (and illegal), but wrong to oppose?

            • We all are supposed to “play by the rules”, TGT. The rule of law. And whether you like it or not, that concept- along with the moral basis of the law itself- are a Judeo-Christian concept. It’s not for nothing that courthouses around the country and in Europe contain carvings, pictures and displays of the Ten Commandments and the great lawgivers from the Testaments. This is at the foundation of our civilization. Without this, there is chaos… as we’re seeing at present.

              But this is not the point of the article. This is about the persecution of people, groups and civic governments for the mere mention of ANYTHING that smacks of religious faith. There is no “tyranny” here of the religious over the non-religious. Rather, it’s the reverse. And it’s closely tied to a political movement that seeks ultimate domination… and that, by its nature, cannot tolerate a belief in a Power beyond their own.

              • We all are supposed to “play by the rules”, TGT. The rule of law. And whether you like it or not, that concept- along with the moral basis of the law itself- are a Judeo-Christian concept.

                The laws are based on moral concepts. They actually line up quite nicely with the Eastern spiritualities as well. Just because the founders came out of the Judeo-Christian concept, does not in any way tie our laws to judeo-christian religions.

                It’s not for nothing that courthouses around the country and in Europe contain carvings, pictures and displays of the Ten Commandments and the great lawgivers from the Testaments.

                No, it’s not for nothing. It’s because people are religious, and like to proselytize.

                This is at the foundation of our civilization. Without this, there is chaos… as we’re seeing at present.

                First, Civilization did just fine in the east without these Christianity. They still came up with morals just fine. Second, their isn’t much chaos, and what chaos there is isn’t coming from secular society.

                But this is not the point of the article. This is about the persecution of people, groups and civic governments for the mere mention of ANYTHING that smacks of religious faith.

                You don’t know what the word persecution means. Nobody is attacking the people for having a specific faith. The attacks are on their using government to spread their faith.

                There is no “tyranny” here of the religious over the non-religious.

                You are specifically saying that athiests should not be allowed to criticize religion. My god.

                Rather, it’s the reverse.

                Yes, the people who want an open discussion on the matter of which is true are the ones being tyrannical.

                And it’s closely tied to a political movement that seeks ultimate domination… and that, by its nature, cannot tolerate a belief in a Power beyond their own.

                Ridiculous puppet masters! Wheee! I give up on you again. Your capitalization of “Power” shows just how far gone you are. When you want to have a rational discussion, let me know.

            • Well, as I’ve noted, I don’t think it is bad, illegal or religious. And I’m confident 40-60% of the courts would agree with me, if they are silly enough to sue, and the city is courageous enough to oppose.

              • When I show that it’s religious, will you give up? See my response at the bottom where I show how silly it is for anyone to take heaven in this case as metaphorical.

                • If you could, I would. you didn’t . Heaven is also a place of honor. If it said “Seven in Valhalla” would you say that was advocating Norse religion? You narrowed the metaphorical meaning of heaven to your purposes, but it has more meanings than that. I will say that my father went to that Big WWII Veteran Reunion in the Sky. That isn’t meant literally, you know. But that’s a metaphor for Heaven, which is a metaphor for “dead.”

                  Your last point cuts both ways. If something is only a problem because you choose to make it one, I don’t see why not choosing to make it one is the rational or ethical choice, particularly when, as in this case, there is no real harm whatsoever.

                  • Heaven is not a metaphor for dead.

                    I’d be fine with Seven in Valhalla so long as the proponents of the name don’t actually believe in Valhalla. As opposed to Heaven, we don’t have 60% of the population believing that Valhalla is a real place.

                    Also, read the quotes from the Borough President. He was not talking about dead. He was talking about Christian Heaven.

                    • The sign is the sign. It’s OK if nobody believes it? If one person believes it? If just the family members believe it? This doesn’t seem strange and trivial and silly to you?

                    • I’m not sure exactly where the line is, but I’m not particularly worried about Loki worship. Also, we don’t have the case where one or two people believe. We have most of the country, and likely nearly everyone involved in the naming. You can come up with counterfactuals, but that doesn’t change THIS situation. They want to honor the memory of their fallen comrades and they want to use religion to do that. They’re not allowed to use religion, but they do it anyway. The only ethics dunces here are the street namers and their supporters.

                    • You’ve moved from “not establishing religion” to “not supporting religion” to “not allowing believers to evoke religion for a narrow purpose with a non-offensive street sign.” I’m no Constitutional strict constructionist, but that’s too much of a stretch for me. And as usual, the protester are counting on a cave, because few courts would back them.

                    • I call equivocation. Support and Establish have the same inherent meaning here.

                      I also did not make that second jump. Government should allow the population to evoke religion, it’s just the government that is limited in what it does. The street sign comes from the government. This isn’t a private lane.

                      Any court that actually follows the law would have to strike this as unconstitutional. That you don’t believe the courts follow the law says more about you and the courts then it does about the protesters.

                    • I believe the courts follow the law, and the law has generally held that incidental references to religious traditions and terminology are not unconstitutional. And correctly, too.

                    • Are you really saying that an intentional religious message (according to the Borough president) is incidental?

      • tgt, I expect better from you than that particular comparison: the “blacks in the back of the bus” policy not only had a direct impact on the lives of African-Americans, but it was deliberately designed to reinforce white supremacy. “Seven in Heaven” Way, its other faults notwithstanding, does not do direct harm to atheists/agnostics, nor would the vast majority of American Christians read it as a sign that they should oppress atheists. If it had been “Jesus is Your Lord and Savior” Street, though, then Ken would have my full support (and if atheists were being sent to the back of buses, I’d bet that Jeff would be among the first to complain). Honestly, I’m generally ok with religious symbols on public property as long as they don’t proselytize nor imply that the governing body responsible is planning on becoming a theocracy; “Seven in Heaven” Way does not threaten atheists anymore than Ronald Reagan High School threatens Democrats. (Now, Jesus Street would be cutting close to the line, though I’d personally just take the chance to make bad jokes about how it’s actually honoring baseball player Jesus Alou).

        • What’s so bad about the back of the bus? Did it actually hurt anyone?

          Agreeing to the religious symbol is agreeing to its validity. I do not believe that “Seven in Heaven Way” is the first step down the path to theocracy, but it’s more grist for the mill. Listen to Bachmann talk. Listen to Malkin. Hell, read SMP. A theocracy is desired by a not insignificant part of the population. Each Government support of religion is just one more piece of the puzzle. One more statement they can point to. No individual block is important in a wall, but once your wall is holey, how do you complain about more holes?

          Just because something isn’t as bad as it could be doesn’t mean its not bad.

          • For someone who assists on precision in comparisons, I am puzzled that you like this one. The back of teh bud of course DID hurt people by relegating them to second class status and restricting their liberty and full access to public accommodations. A sign that only picked “heaven” because it rhymed with “seven” (I bet you if the word for Valhalla rhymed with seven and the word for heaven didn’t, the sign would have been about seven in Valhalla) and is religiously neutral in all other respects harms nobody.

            Your last sentence is 100% correct. It just doesn’t apply here. The sign is only “bad” because a group gains politically from claiming it is bad…which means, does it not, that it’s really good!

            • You’re being willfully blind. The supports of the sign are open about the religious meaning behind it, and you still deny it. You can’t argue with people who deny reality.

              Second class status? What actual harm is there in second class status? Full access to public accomodations? They aren’t being kicked off the buses, are they? Separate but equal. Who says the front of the bus is better than the back?

              • As you know, Brown v. Bd. of Education made a compelling argument about what is wrong with second class status. Atheists do not have such status—I see no reason why a Seven Rotting in the Ground and That’s all There Is To It BLVD would be rejected by the city, as long as sufficient numbers of people were interested, and seven brave atheists were being honored. Why do you assume otherwise?

                I’m not denying reality; I’m denying that your criteria is relevant. It doesn’t matter what the organizers meant by “heaven.” Are you saying that the exact same street name would be acceptable and non-offensive if the organizers were atheists, and picked ‘heaven’ because it rhymed with seven, and if it had been just six, would have called the street “Six in the Styx” Way? Really? So 100 years from now, a NYC atheist will have to look up the statements made by the street namers to decise whether it’s insulting or not? Really?

                Nonsense.

                The primary purpose is not to promote religion, but to honor seven heroes who happened to be religious. Courts have used the primary purpose test on incidental religious references, and that’s a good approach. The primary purpose of the National Christmas Tree is 1) to launch a secular holiday season 2) tradition 3) tourist attracting. Some have argued, unsuccessfully, that it constitutes the prootion of religion—I guess you would argue that if George Bush or Carter lights it, then the tree is intended to promote religion, but if a diets/non-religious president lights it (Obama? Lincoln? Jefferson?) it’s A-OK.

                When Irving Berlin, a Jew, wrote “Easter Parade,” he was honoring a holiday and a community, not promoting Christianity. When he wrote “White Christmas,” he was writing a remembrance of his daughter who died on Christmas, not pushing Jesus. I suppose there are people who are convinced these songs should never be played at government shindigs. That makes as much sense to me as objecting to the street.

                • If you’d gone into Brown v Board of Ed a little more, you would have made my points for me. Second class status IS a problem. Why? Because of the effects it has on the population. The same effects come when Government puts Religion (illegally) above atheism.

                  I 100% believe that there’s no chance that “Seven Rotting in the Ground and That’s all There Is To It BLVD” would be rejected by the city. Do you really think otherwise? With the borough president’s comments?

                  You’re moving the goalposts. You said the sign was without religious intent. Now that it’s clear it is with religious intent, you’re saying the intent doesn’t matter. It’s chicanery. Chicanery people often don’t realize they’re doing, but still chicanery. Also, I still haven’t claimed the streetname is insulting. Please don’t put those words in my mouth.

                  The National Christmas tree doesn’t pass muster for me, but I let it go for reasons 1 and 2. Seven in Heaven Blvd doesn’t pass either of those tests. Since it’s tradition, the ceremonial lighter doesn’t matter. Also, intent only comes into play when the message could be ambiguous. For a nonambiguous message (say Obama supporting a new manger scene), the speaker’s intent doesn’t matter so much.

                  Playing a private song at a government function does not immediately mean the government supports the song. Now, if they commissioned the song, that would be something else altogether.

          • If nothing else, it caused at least mild discomfort to blacks who didn’t want to walk all the way to the back. Besides, I said that it had a “direct impact on the lives of African Americans” (by subjecting their daily routines to a discriminatory regulation in a way even a blatantly offensive street name could never hope to imitate), not that said impact was actually harmful and/or substantial in its effect.

            Honestly, my whole point is that I don’t think the street name is bad to begin with (you could easily read it as being nothing more than a reference to an element of US culture without having to assume that it’s trying to get non-believers to convert to a religion of any kind). This is basically the equivalent of invading Bhutan; what’s really to gain? Hell, the fact that Danes have a Crucifixion scene on their passports (and honestly, that’s something I’d probably fight against if they tried to implement it here) hasn’t prevented them from becoming a relatively secular people.

            • I was responding to Jeff. Jeff was saying we should let the little stuff go and focus only on what he thinks is important. With blacks unable to visit stores, live in certain areas, vote, get a fair trial, etc, being required to sit in the back of the bus was a minor issue. By Jeff’s logic, it should be ignored.

              My parallel was dead on for what I was attacking. Don’t sweat the little stuff, just the big stuff.

              Now, on to your points. All of your points are based on the sign possibly not being religious. You, like Jack, are ignoring that the supporters of the sign have admitted the religious underpinning of it. Your points are all made invalid due to this little detail.

              • *facepalm* A minor issue that had a DIRECT impact on how black went about their daily routine. You can’t say that a road sign that’s not even specific on what particular religion it’s referencing would force you to accommodate your daily routine to it in any way. Besides, whether we consider an issue “big” or “small” is rather relative; I’d bet my college funds that Jeff would consider “atheists to the back of the bus” a big (enough) issue to be worth fighting against. And yes, I am absolutely aware of the religious underpinnings of the people who support the name; but 1. you can see it as a simple reference to an element of US culture without implying that the government is actively supporting it, and 2. I’m sure some of the lawmakers who write legislation for things like food stamps and medical coverage for poor kids had at least some religious motivation, but we ultimately judge those laws on their secular effects: regardless of the motivations of the people who thought up the name, the name itself is so religiously vague that it pretty much gives no special benefit to the religious and no particular insult to the non-religious (or the Satanists, hurhurhur).

                • In case you’re wondering, I’m only faceplaming the Jim Crow comparison; regardless of the fact that I seem to only respond to tgt when I disagree with him, he is one of my favorite commentators on this site (with his feud with SMP being one of my guilty pleasures). However, so is Jeff. 😛

                  • Feud, Julian? I seem to recall that we’ve actually agreed on occasion. As to the above commentary between you, TGT and Jack; I’m a little “muddled”! How can anyone claim that deliberately relegating someone of a specific ethnic persuation to the back of the bus is alright, but acknowledging the basic tenets of a faith that expouses human brotherhood in God is evil and “theocratic”? Or is that muddle-shoe on someone else’s foot? I find refuting this kind of dislogic one of MY guilty pleasures.

                    • 1) Nobody has claimed that the back of the bus policy is okay. Where’d you get that idea from?
                      2) The government backing a religious claim (what is actually occurring here) is pretty much the definition of theocracy.

                • Yes, blacks were commonly affected by moving to the back of the bus, but they were more seriously affected by everything else I mentioned. You’re further justifying my use of the parallel.

                  And yes, I am absolutely aware of the religious underpinnings of the people who support the name; but 1. you can see it as a simple reference to an element of US culture without implying that the government is actively supporting it

                  Not if you’re rational, you can’t. The street name is not a reference to an element of US culture, it is stating unequivocally that the local government believes these men are in a magical fairy land. While someone who has no knowledge of the history of the street name may or may not take it as religious, anyone who does know the history MUST take it as religious. Anything else would be dishonest.

                  2. I’m sure some of the lawmakers who write legislation for things like food stamps and medical coverage for poor kids had at least some religious motivation, but we ultimately judge those laws on their secular effects: regardless of the motivations of the people who thought up the name, the name itself is so religiously vague that it pretty much gives no special benefit to the religious and no particular insult to the non-religious (or the Satanists, hurhurhur).

                  Wow. That was one run on sentence, but I think it breaks out into 2 ideas: (1)We judge laws by results not motivations, and (2) the street name is vague enough to not matter.

                  (1) A religious motivation of a senator, while it makes him irrational, does not have any bearing on secular legislation. So long as the foodstamps law doesn’t talk about God or gods, I don’t see a problem. How this relates to a sign that specifically makes a religious claim is beyond me.

                  (2) The street name is not religiously vague. It makes a specific religious claim, and that is supported by the creators of the name. You’re can’t coherently state that “X was intended to mean Y,” “if X means Y, X is bad,” and “X isn’t bad.”

                  • Heh, I used to construct run-ons just for the sole purpose of annoying people; it’s a tough habit to shake off when not writing for a school assignment.

                    I’ll give Ken this much credit; I do kind of want this to now get to the Supreme Court, just to see what its opinion is. Its position on public displays of religion far more blatant than this road name have been akin to a tightrope act (It has both upheld and struck down creche displays, in Lynch v. Donnally and Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU respectively, with a similar situation occurring in the more recent cases of Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky with regards to displays of the Ten Commandments).

                    • Ethis foul! I’ll give you a pass though.

                      The court has been all over the place, and the opinions even more so. They often read more like rationalizations and counterfactuals then rational arguments…and that’s from both sides. *sigh*

                    • That’s RIGHT!!! And why? Because this is something that is better handled by ethical sensitivities and common sense, that’s why. Laws can’t be written to sensibly handle the issue, unless they are just absolute.

                    • Yeah, I’m actually kind of hoping that this issue, seeing as even fellow nonbelievers like you, Jack, and I are disagreeing about it, will have enough grist for the mill to make its way up to the Court and force the justices to look at their previous decisions in a new light, giving us something more consistent than what we’ve been getting so far.

                      Eh, it’s probably just my suppressed sense of unwarranted optimism striking through again.

                    • The ethics foul was on Julian for doing something solely to upset them.

                      The bad opinions just show that people are human, and even supreme court justices aren’t always rational. There’s no reason they have to write such tripe about this issue.

                      Also, if we want to pretend there are no laws or constitutional requirements involving religion, the ethical argument you would end up with would be pretty one-sided. Kind of like evolution vs creationism. Every time someone promotes or supports religion, they are being unethical. Full stop.

                    • Eh, the annoyance was just something between friends; really just a half-assed prank war,

                      Also, I’d be perfectly ok with the courts saying nothing more than “a vague reference to a generally religious concept does not violate the Establishment Clause”; basically what you’re saying, Jack. I don’t think that this should have ever become an issue, but now that it has, we might as well get some verdict on it.

                    • Julian,

                      I wasn’t trying to be harsh. I just wanted to make sure Jack knew what I was referencing.

                      I would be perfectly fine if the courts said as you suggested and used that as the dividing line. Since this case is neither vague nor general, it’s clear where it would fall.

                    • No worries; what I love about this site is that the regular commentators don’t pull their punches even with people they respect and/or generally agree with.

                      Well, considering that you and Jack, two intelligent people with little to no religious convictions (goddamn, you two generally make my inputs superfluous), are having this argument, I wouldn’t call it so clear-cut.

                    • I still think Jack has a blindspot when it comes to religion. Blindspots are common. There’s a pro-evolution mathmatician blogger I read that is a good example of this. He’s culturally Jewish, but has left the religion behind. In nearly all circumstances, he’s a skeptic, but whenever Israel comes up, its like he puts on his tinfoil hat. The dichotomy is jarring.

                      Jack is similar. He’s not religious, but he remembers religion fondly. He’s willing to excuse religion based on half formed beliefs and general good feelings. They never hold up to scrutiny, but that’s the brilliance of unformed opinions: they don’t have to. No matter how much the result is picked apart, the underlying subconscious motivations are left untouched.

                      The propenents of the street name are upfront in this case. They are saying unequivocally that the street name is religious. It is meant to say that these 7 people are in the Christian Heaven. It takes underthoughts and feelings to wave away such blatant evidence.

                    • It’s a good theory, but I have no fond recollections of religion at all. Lots of negative ones…like being called illicit in a sermon because my parents were “mixed”—Dad wasn’t Greek Orthodox. Corrupt ministers. Scandals in the church. Wasted time. My father in law was a respected minister, and a cold SOB who messed his daughters up big-time.

                      Many people I am close to have benefited, I’d say, from the church community, if not religion itself. If I’m too lenient toward religion, It’s with my eyes wide open.

                    • Then again, stated intentions sometimes don’t matter when it comes to these types of cases; if a judge’s bench had the 10 Commandments and the contents of Deuteronomy written all over it, I don’t care if he says it’s for historical/cultural purposes; even if he stated that sincerely, I’d see it as constituting an obvious violation of the Establishment Clause. Basically, my own line would be whether a thick-skinned and culturally-knowledgeable visitor would instinctively view such a display as proclaiming superiority over non-believers.

                      Of course, that’s a damn difficult line to draw at times (hence all the people who wrongly complain that the very existence of secular government is a direct insult to Christians), and that’s probably the primary reason I think that our main efforts on the legal side of things should be against displays (particularly in judicial, administrative, and legislative buildings) that are obviously proselytizing (which generally involve pronouns, implied or otherwise). Like I’ve alluded to, stronger symbolic church-state entanglement (of the type that I would certainly oppose here) in Europe hasn’t prevented the rise of a healthy secular society. I suppose my own bias towards this comes from the fact that all the conservative Christians that I’ve personally met aren’t bothered by my lack of religion, and by a personality that can be described as “resignedly indulgent”.

  3. This “wall of separation” is really getting ridiculous. How can you possibly take the naming of a sign with the word heaven in it and construe that or putting up a cross or anything else as a state established religion?”Congress shall make no law respecting an
    establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof….”
    Have they actually been to a country with a state religion? I wish they would go to one and find out what it’s really like to be persecuted.

    • So, you wouldn’t have any problems if a judge put a star of david up in his courtroom, you wouldn’t see that as religious? What about a crescent and star? I’m assuming you’re not an ignorant person that believes all cultures and religions put crosses on gravesites.

      Have they actually been to a country with a state religion? I wish they would go to one and find out what it’s really like to be persecuted.

      Ethics foul. If it’s worse somewhere else, then you can’t complain about it here.

      • Indeed. Go to an autocratic theocracy and see the persecution. And it’s against Jews and Christians, as such nations are nearly always Moslem. It’s an inherent part of their culture. They have no First Amendment rights there. We do here. And we’re trying to preserve them. Yet, increasingly, we see those persecutions at work here. Not so much by Moslems (yet!) but by atheist elements who, as with Moslems, must enforce their beliefs on others by law in order to prosper; not being able to compete against Christian values otherwise. One of the means for forwarding that agenda is to accuse Christians of the very abuses that the secularists themselves are responsible for. To collapse a nation in the course of a campaign f0r domination, one must first deprive that nation of its heritage and moral foundation. This is what’s at work right now. If that work succeeds, then it leaves a cultural vacuum into which the corrupters can move in. That’s when the REAL persecutions commence.

  4. Why do people refer to the “separation of church and state” as if it’s some kind of law? Does anyone know the names of the 7 firefighters? Most every religion has some sort of heaven but this story really seems to be about some whiny Jews who are trying to further their anti-Christian causes under the guise of atheism.

    • Well, the Constitution’s prohibition against state establishment of religion has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include the sate favoring one faith over another, so in that sense, it is indeed a law.

      • That’s another case of judicial amendments to the Constitution, Jack. The sole purpose of this was to prohibit a nationally sponsored church- such as the Church of England. Many people came to America from Britain to escape being taxed to support a church in which they did not participate. Catholics, quakers, congregationalists, puritans, etc. And this from the Framers- half of whom were Episcopals themselves. This was not nor could be logically interpreted as being a prohibition on any expression, however distant, of any belief in God or Heaven. In fact, it must be noted that some states HAD an officially endorsed denomination. The prohibition, again, was only against a national church.

            • By incorporating the bill of rights to the states. It doesn’t matter that the original purpose was to only prohibit the national government from performing X. By the 14th amendment, part of constitution, this prohibition applies to the states and local governments as well.

              • A clarification. The only judicial activision I see here is the failure of the judiciary to apply the entire bill of rights to the states. I’m anti-gun, but it’s pretty clear that Chicago’s restrictions and D.C.’s restrictions were/are unconstitutional.

                • Then you’ve really made my point for me, TGT. The Bill of Rights is national in scope. Only in the minds of liberals does the prohibition of a national religion equate into one that persecutes any expression of religious faith whatsoever… and thereby invalidates a specific right imdued in the First Amendment. These, of course, are the same people who think that Jefferson’s out-of-context mention of “separation of church & state” (from a private correpondence) is in the Constitution. At least we’re agreed on the Second Amendment being the law of the land!

                  • 1) Again, the 14th amendment applies the bill of rights to the states. You can’t consistently have the 2nd amendment and throw out the 1st. The court has actually tried to do the oppositte. Everyone agrees on incorporation of the 1st amendment, but the 2nd amendment not so much. Though I would prefer the 2nd amendment not be incorporated, I’m an honest person, so I have no choice but to accept it.

                    2) You can’t persecute an expression of faith. That statement is nonsensical.

                    3) I have never supported persecuting people for expressing faith. In general, liberals do not support persecution. The only people I know who support persecution are religious nuts. (I know, religious nuts is repetitive.)

                    This post of yours is a good example of why I respond to some of your posts with boilerplate about your general behavior. this post demonstrates an inability to use basic logic, “facts” that are contrary to reality, and random strawmen.

      • I might then argue that the Constitution also prohibits the establishment of Atheism as the official state religion.

        –Dwayne

        • You have a point, Dwayne. Some have, indeed, argued that atheism has a common point with religion inasmuch as it is based on matters of faith. The big difference, however, is that atheism does not leap beyond worldly logic, as Christianity does, but attempts to sequester false logic as its premise. However, it still makes claims that cannot be supported by logic alone, which makes it a “religion” of sorts. By driving out anything in public life that even refers off-handedly to Christianity, the forces of atheism are, in effect, creating a national religion of godlessness.

          • More simply put, there is a big distinction between showing “no preference” for a particular religion (what the document says) and showing a preference for “no religion” (they way it is most often currently implemented).

            When “no religion” is the law of the land, this is the sort of thing that will inevitably happen–it doesn’t just stop at graduation prayers, does it?

            –Dwayne

            • True enough. The good news, however, is that other atheistic dictatorships have tried and failed to stamp out Christianity in their nations. The Soviet Union tried in vain for three quarters of a century. The Church outlived it. In China, Christianity is not only on the rise, but becoming a political force! The resiliency of our faith is historic. But it often comes at a heavy price of persecution. If America, the premier Christian nation on Earth, sinks to such a state, it will strike a severe blow to the aspirations of untold millions abroad. The example of America provides a basic source of hope and freedom. I’d contend that our fall from grace could presage a new, worldwide Dark Ages from which the world might never emerge. This is the dream of the Leftist/Globalist movement. For them, the Church remains their greatest stumbling block to ultimate power.

              • We are not a dictatorship. We are not an atheistic country.

                Christianity has not been persecuted very often. More often, christianity is the persecutor. More importantly, there is no persecution of christianity in the U.S. You, like many people, believe the USA is a Christian nation, in direction opposition to the constitution you hold so dear.

                Why do I even bother?

                • Why, indeed? As you say, we are not an atheist dictatorship. Yet. That fact that we ARE a Christian nation is one of the best guarantees possible that we never will be. That- complemented by the Constitution in its original spirit; a document forged by 55 Christian Americans.

                  • How many things are wrong here:
                    * Nobody is fighting for an atheist dictatorship
                    * We cannot be a Christian nation without modifying or violating the Constitution.
                    * Many of the founders were deists. Deism and Christianity (as it is used by SMP) are not at all similar.

                    Steven Mark Pilling has no desire to have a discussion. His only desire is to spread his unfounded opinions. If challenged on any of his “facts,” he resorts to dissembling and avoidance. I have given up on him.

                    See https://ethicsalarms.com/2011/02/14/the-huffington-post-bloggers-lament/comment-page-1/#comment-10744 and his response https://ethicsalarms.com/2011/02/14/the-huffington-post-bloggers-lament/comment-page-1/#comment-10748 as an example of this behavior. That entire thread is well worth a read before deciding to engage with this poster.

                    • A better way to describe the US would probably be “a nation made up of mostly Christians”. Christianity had a role in helping to shape civic and moral culture, but the trend has generally been towards keeping religion a matter of individual conscience. Really, the US, like other Western nations, is a nation of the Enlightenment, a movement which undeniably helped to secularize the West.

                      Oh god, I just waded into a minefield, didn’t I?

                  • I don’t know, my family contains a number of people who were involved in pro-democracy protests back in the days when the KMT still dominated Taiwanese politics; thankfully, they got their representative government, and can probably keep it as long as Beijing can keep its hands to itself. And all in a country where Christianity seems to have capped at about 4.5%.

            • More simply put, there is a big distinction between showing “no preference” for a particular religion (what the document says) and showing a preference for “no religion” (they way it is most often currently implemented).

              Citation needed. There’s no preference for “no religion” from a secular government.

          • Some have, indeed, argued that atheism has a common point with religion inasmuch as it is based on matters of faith.

            Some have also said the moon is made of green cheese. Those people, at least couldn’t have known better.

            The big difference, however, is that atheism does not leap beyond worldly logic, as Christianity does, but attempts to sequester false logic as its premise.

            Tell me what is false.

            However, it still makes claims that cannot be supported by logic alone, which makes it a “religion” of sorts.

            Name one.

            By driving out anything in public life that even refers off-handedly to Christianity, the forces of atheism are, in effect, creating a national religion of godlessness.

            Again, Secular != Atheism. That’s not a hard concept to understand.

            • 1. Who ever seriously suggest that? False analogy.
              2. That the universe, in all its vast complexity and magnificence, arose out of nothing by accident.
              3. See above.
              4. “Secular” does not necessarily equate “atheism”. Where did you get THAT idea?

              • 1. There was no analogy. I was using a commonly known myth to map to the myth you were trying to sneak in the back door with the “some have argued” construction. Without equivocating on the word faith, the argument that atheism, like religion, is based on faith is no better than the hypothetical that the moon is made of green cheese.
                2/3. That’s not a claim of atheism. That’s not even a claim of science. Try again.
                4. You suggested it. When you keep Governement from supporting Christianity (or any religion), you are not supporting atheism, you are supporting secularism. Do I need to refute the nonsensical idea of a “religion of godlessness?”

                Oh, also, noone is driving out statements that refer “off-handedly to Christianity.” That’s another strawman.

                • Err… The first line is supposed to be: “There is no requirement for someone to have seriously suggested that.”

                  It doesn’t matter if the author or an argument is serious; it only matters what the argument says.

        • Who suggested that? Not supporting religion is very different from supporting atheism. Secular government is not atheistic government.

  5. I’m going to hit some other comments individually, but I need to respond to Jack’s silly mistakes first.

    1) Using a term metaphorically is not the same as using it literally.
    2) A private group supporting religion is not like the state supporting religion.

    That blows away nearly every comparison Jack offers. They are irrelevant, and it is disengenuous to use them.

    The comparisons that are left are historical locations that were named from 100 to 300 years ago. These names are already in use by all and would be both impractical and assholish to attempt to change. This street is just now being renamed, and in clear contravention of what’s allowed.

    There are no valid comparisons to show this is bad behavior, so we get more improper attacks. Attacking 5th avenue and 10th avenue because they are offensive to individual groups. It’s not that “Seven in Heaven” is offensive, it’s that it promotes Religion as valid, as if the seven dead firefighters went to an actual heaven. Moreover, 5th avenue and 10th avenue existed before their names had meaning. The candy bar and song come from them, not the other way around. If Ken were attacking 34th street, this part may have at least made some sense.

    Finally, we get to utilitarianism. Jack blows this as well. On one side we have a silly statement that people who performed “one heroic act” (read: “their job”) are superbeings without flaws. This statement also manages to suggest that religion is true, in clear contravention of the constitution. On the other side, we have a sane person calling out this improper, illogical, and illegal statement.

    That anyone can say for a second that this street name is not motivated by religion and intended to honor religion shows just how blind the populace is to religion.

    • You’ll have to prove to me that the use of “Heaven” in the street name is unequivocally literal and not metaphorical. I don’t believe in heaven; I take the name as metaphorical. Steven does—he takes it as literal. What the name is not is “insulting” to anybody who isn’t disingenuous or deranged. In fact, I can’t think of a street name that I would justifiably think is “insulting” unless there is a Jack Marshall is an Asshole Street somewhere, and even that wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t have to drive past it every day. (And is it literal or metaphorical? Hmmmm???) There is nothing wrong with a Rorschach title…those are the best ones, in fact. If you want it to be religious, it’s religious. If you don’t, you don’t. But if you want it to be religious so you can posture, protest and be ‘insulted” by it—uh, uh. The easy, least obtrusive remedy is to decide that it isn’t religious, any more than “All Dog’s Go To Heaven” or angel food cake.

      It’s amusing to me that rabid atheists are getting as irrationally hyper-sensitive as Rev. Wildmon and his merry gang of censors in the 70’s and 80’s, seeing conspiracies against religion and decency in every sitcom. “Heaven” means that the firemen did good, and are dead. Any other supposition is confirmation bias.

      • You’ll have to prove to me that the use of “Heaven” in the street name is unequivocally literal and not metaphorical.

        Heaven is used metaphorically to mean a great place – a place of pleasure. The firefighters are dead. Being dead is not a great place or a place of pleasure, unless you believe in a silly superstition. Now, if the seven in heaven referred to 7 live firefighters who won the lottery, then it could be metaphorical.

        There is nothing wrong with a Rorschach title…those are the best ones, in fact. If you want it to be religious, it’s religious. If you don’t, you don’t.

        That doesn’t apply to this situation, but I’m against it as well. If it’s intended to be religious, it’s a violation. Just because some people might not see it as religious doesn’t remove the problems. See: crosses.

        The easy, least obtrusive remedy is to decide that it isn’t religious, any more than “All Dog’s Go To Heaven” or angel food cake.

        Ignore the problem, then it’s not a problem any more. Pretend it’s something it’s not.

        • Also, from the linked article:

          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,”

          and

          “In a country where 85 percent of the people say they are Christian or claim to be Christian, should it be surprising that you name cities and streets with religious terminology.”

          Clearly, this sign was put up with religious motivation. It’s not a metaphor to the people backing it.

          “In a country where 85 percent of the people say they are Christian or claim to be Christian, should it be surprising that you name cities and streets with religious terminology.”

          Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/06/21/new-york-atheists-angry-over-heaven-street-sign-honoring-11victims/#ixzz1QUQchhBa

      • One dissention to this, Jack. In view of what we see today on TV and in films- a direct outgrowth of the unbridled programming of the 70’s and 80’s- might it not be that Reverend Wildmon and his “merry gang” had a point?

  6. I don’t know; I’d say there’s something wrong with the message when you start claiming Mighty Mouse was sniffing cocaine.

        • Basically, there was a scene in the Ralph Bakshi version where Mighty Mouse attempts to smell some flowers given to him by a girl; however, since the flowers had been crushed earlier out of malice by another character, he ends up sniffing them up his nose. Rev. Wildmon raised a fuss, and the scene was taken out.

          Then again, we are talking about the Ralph Bakshi who animated Fritz the Cat and the trippy version of Lord of the Rings.

  7. I’m still trying to figure out why my (or anyone else’s) belief in heaven is so threatening to you, tgt. I do, you don’t. Shouldn’t hurt either of us that we don’t agree, unless, as Jack points out, we TRY to get offended that we don’t agree. Why does a street sign qualify as proselytizing? Because Jack uses lots of other instances of the word HEAVEN that you didn’t say are equally proselytiz-ish. So why is a song lyric, formerly VERY popular, too, NOT as offensive as a street sign? I really don’t get it.

    • You have asked a number of questions and made a number of assumptions, so please excuse how long this response has to be to cover them.

      I am not threatened by someone’s belief in heaven. I (along with everyone else on earth) am threatened by people disregarding reality and believing ideas without evidence. Heaven is merely one example of that. Belief without evidence has brought us the crusades, jihad, the inquisition, the salem witch trials (and the continued witch hunts in Africa), subjugation of women, subjugation of blacks, the holocaust, FGM, torture of gay people, etc… When people take faith over evidence, they can justify horrendous behavior.

      Some lesser behavior: Denying evolution. Denying global warming. Digging for bodies in someone’s yard based on a psychic tip. Failure to vaccinate. Treating serious conditions with homeopathy. Using up all there money prior to the rapture. Supporting all Israeli actions, without considering the actual policies.

      Again, I’m not threatened by your belief in heaven. The entire planet is threatened by your willingness to believe in nonsense (and by your willingness to excuse belief in nonsense).

      The street sign was put up to state that 7 specific dead people are in literal Heaven. That was the intent of the sign. If it was a private road, I wouldn’t like it, but it would be perfectly legal. Because it is a public road and a (n officially) government supplied name, it’s a government backing of the completely unsupported (religious) belief in Heaven.

      As I detailed previously, all of Jack’s references are to either private organizations or to names that have been in existence for ages. The former is not government supported, and the latter have already been brought into common discourse. Changing the latter would be untenable.

      I’m not sure which song lyric you are referring to, but all of them were private, not government supported. Moreover, most of them are actually metaphors. When Ginger Roberts says she’s in Heaven, she’s saying she’s elated, as happy as can be. She’s not saying she’s dead and her nonexistent spirit has moved into some magical nether world. There is no claim of the existence of Heaven like in the street sign.

      • Well… that was one of your better rants, TGT! You’ve managed to take every fringe issue (including the horrible belief by some- like me- that global warming proves that a sucker is born every minute) and wrap them together into your presentation of the Christian Creed. And, from this, you expound on your fanatic viewpoint that Christianity is evil!! I’d suggest that if you want to look for that evil source, you look around you and view the tribulations brought on by unbridled statism/socialism/secularism (i.e. “liberalism”). Then look into your own heart (i.e. “soul”). That exists, too- however much you may wish it didn’t.

        • I was not talking about Christianity. I was talking about the more general category of irrational thought (faith, believe without evidence, etc). Christianity is but a mere example of irrationality. I attack all irrational beliefs with the same zeal.

  8. So even if I/they don’t try to make you believe in it or say you won’t get to go there or try to kill anyone over it, the simple fact that it’s on a STREET sign, in one location in NYC where neither of us will ever come across it, is the government trying to make everyone believe in it? I can’t agree with you there. And the evidence that gets believers to have faith in something is different for every one. I don’t believe in the same way Sarah Palin professes to- different denominations have different standards. And what I’ve seen in my life that gives me faith is nothing like Stephen’s. And clearly the evidence in your life is that Stephen and I believe in fairy tales, though to us: nothing doing.

    You make good points about historical misuse of religion. I believe (pun intended) that more people have died in the name of God, god, God(s), etc. than any other single root cause. But I am with Jack in that this one street sign isn’t a slippery slope that leads to the FEDERAL, or even state or local, government down a primrose path to hell.

    Oddly enough, the only thing I truly proselytize about is a certain kind of chocolate. I think everyone SHOULD try it, and if you don’t at least agree it’s tasty, if not your favorite, then I usually think something is wrong with you. Yes, I’m biased.

    • Are you responding to me?

      If so, the first sentence is one big strawman argument. I never claimed the government was trying to get everyone to believe those 7 people are in Heaven. I claimed the local Government is blessing (pun intended) a religious claim.

      The rest of the first paragraph is one big (unintentional) equivocation on the word “faith.” I have faith that my parents love me based on their comments and actions over the past 30 years. This is a believe based on evidence. Religious faith, on the other hand, is a belief without evidence (or in contradiction to the evidence). You can’t use evidence to get to religious faith.

      You listed 3 people with very different religious beliefs in the first paragraph: Palin, SMP, and yourself. This supports my conjecture that validating faith is dangerous. All of you believe you are right. None of you have any evidence. Your support of your beliefs makes it impossible for you to challenge their beliefs. You end up giving credence to things you outright object to.

      I’m not arguing slippery slope with this sign. I’ve been arguing straight illegality, but I could also make an argument about how the local government’s support of this street name might chill anti-religious speech. I tend to go against authority when authority behaves badly, but most atheists I know would think twice about talking about atheism there now.

      I’m glad that you’re against proselytization, but that’s really a secondary concern. Legitimatization of irrational thought is conserably scarier to me.

      As for your chocolate love, I’m that way with G&M crabcakes. They are the best in the Baltimore area, and I will brook no dissent over this.

        • I do not appreciate the false attack. Besides the fact that I’m not a traditional liberal by any stretch of the imagination, I am perfectly willing to view all evidence on any matter and make a decision based upon it. Claiming otherwise (as anything more than a matter of opinion) could be construed as libel.

  9. Dear Jack: TGT’s right about one thing. There IS a problem in posting comments. I was just accessing this thread and I noticed that some of my posts didn’t make it, either. And my apologies to him for calling him “she” on a recent post that DID go through. I was thinking “Miss Tiggy” when I posted. Unforgiveable gender bias on my part!

    • Apology accepted, though I still think the Miss Tiggy bit is juvenile name calling that is clearly unethical.

      All my posts have made it, but not always in the right places. It seems to help if, after submitting a post, you wait a few seconds before doing anything else on the page. I suspect wordpress has some poorly written ajax.

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