A fresh religious controversy is ripening in the Big Apple. Atheists there want to ban a word from the name of a street.
In the Red Hook neighborhood of New York City, residents got part of a street renamed to honor seven firefighters who died during the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
So far, so good. But not so God. The street name is "Seven in Heaven Way." NYC Atheists are considering a lawsuit, and not over the trite, maudlin rhyme. They say the title causes "injury" and breaches separation of church and state.
"We are not against honoring anyone who died or served on 9/11," Ken Bronstein, president of the atheist group, told the New York Daily News. "What we're against is the use of the word 'heaven,' which is a religious concept . . . This is not a Christian nation. This is a republic."
The idea isn’t getting a lot of sympathy.
"Oh God, the atheists are mad again," says a guest column in the New York Press.
"Evangelical Atheists vs. Humanity," trumpets the New York-based religious journal "First Things."
"Jerky Atheists Object to 9/11 Commemorative Street Sign," says the blog of the otherwise cheerfully secular "New York" magazine.
The fracas is just one round in the growing conflict between the religious and the anti-religious. A new film, "The Ledge," pits Christianity against atheism. Director-writer Matthew Chapman, a great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, says it's the first film to cast atheists in a good light.
(Sidebar, Your Honor? It may be the first film to show atheists positively, but it's hardly the first to show religion negatively. Exhibit A: the film "2012," which shows the destruction of the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica and the Christ statue over Rio de Janeiro. Why? "Because I'm against organized religion," executive director Roland Emmerich has said.)
Jerkiness or non-jerkiness aside, why start with a street sign? What about all the other religious place names in America?
Think of all the cities named after holy men: St. Louis, St. Petersburg, St. Augustine, San Francisco, San Antonio. How about Los Angeles (The Angels) and Corpus Christi (Body of Christ)? And the name of Florida -- originally Pascua de Florida, or "Flowery Easter"?
And we haven't even gotten to non-Christian references, like Phoenix, named for a bird in Egyptian mythology. In New York itself, the Apollo Theater is named for a Greek deity. Try changing that name.
Or we could try growing up. We could live our faith, or non-faith, and stop trying to twist others' arms to speak up or shut up. And for "heaven's" sake, leave court dockets free for matters that really matter.
James D. Davis