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Atheists might sue over “Seven In Heaven” street sign honoring 9/11 firefighters

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Last month, to honor seven heroic firefighters who died on 9/11, a portion of Richards St. in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn was renamed "Seven In Heaven Way." One would think this a touching and richly deserved tribute to those brave, selfless men of New York Ladder Co. 101/ Engine Co. 202. But not everyone feels this way.

Ken Bronstein, the head of NYC Atheists, and his lawyers are considering a lawsuit based on the unconstitutional establishment of religion. Bronstein said:

"We are not against honoring anyone who died or served on 9/11. What we're against is the use of the word 'heaven,' which is a religious concept. The Founding Fathers set up separation of church and state. We need to draw a line in the sand. This is not a Christian nation. This is a republic."

Leaving aside the disrespect this shows to the firefighters, Bronstein would have an uphill slog making his case, as First Amendment case law suggests that, when it comes to opening a forum for expression, government can't disallow either religious or non-religious speech, as long as religious references are attributed to individuals and not the government. Bronstein said, "It's irrelevant who it's for. We think this is a very bad thing."

It's not irrelevant to Ralph Gullickson, brother of Joseph, who was pulling victims from the rubble before the second plane hit. He said:

"We weren't even able to recover my brother's remains. These little things like a sign is all we have left. How dare these people try to take it away from us. He didn't go in there that day and ask people what their religion [was] or whether they believed in God. He just went to save people."