Seven in Heaven
These seven members of Engine 202/Ladder 101/Battalion 32 – Joseph Gullickson, Brian Cannizzaro, Salvatore Calabro, Thomas Kennedy, Patrick Byrne, Joseph Maffeo, and Terence McShane – were lost on September 11, 2011 in the attacks on the World Trade Center towers. They were one of the first responders to the scene as their firehouse is near the Brooklyn tunnel that leads to lower Manhattan.
Since the attacks of 9/11 these FDNY firefighters have long been recognized as the “Seven in Heaven” by their community and family. In December 2009 Community Board 6 – which represents this section of Brooklyn – voted unanimously in support of the renaming of Richards Street.
The unveiling of the sign on June 11th, which was greeted with tears, pride and respect by those who knew the men, was regrettably greeted with a protest as well.
New York’s secularist community has come out with their opinions as to why the word “heaven” should not be used in government sponsored or funded activities. To them it all boils down to the misconstrued interpretation that there is a separation of church and state clause in the United States Constitution.
One such secularist is A.J. Johnson, Director of Development at American Atheists. In his Internet post “Seven in Heaven Way,” he is concerned that the government’s approved use of the word heaven “legitimize(s) Christianity by asserting that Heaven is a real place, and that all these heroes are actually there.”
Further in his post he shows concern that this is a slippery slope issue. Not to exaggerate – but I will – in Mr. Johnson’s view today a street sign, tomorrow the Pope will inhabit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The secularists, including atheist groups like Mr. Johnson’s that seek to eliminate any mention of God or religion in public society, are misdirected. Religion – more specifically the freedom to practice it – has been the driving force in the development of our nation. Nearly every other nation on earth has restrictions of some sort on the practice of faith, which is one of the reasons why we are truly the “land of the free.”
This First Amendment to the Constitution expressly prohibits Congress from establishing a state religion or limiting the free exercise of religion. As the text of the 1st Amendment states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Community Board 6, it should be noted, approved a sign. It did not pass an ordinance that the official religion of Brooklyn should be Christianity. There is nothing that the board did that is antithetical to The United States Constitution.
The board did not create the moniker “Seven in Heaven,” it chose the street name after repeatedly hearing the commonly used nickname given to the seven heroes by their families.
The street sign should remain to honor the memories of these fallen heroes. There is no threat to the atheist community or to The Constitution.
From The Wanderer (written by U2, sung by Johnny Cash)
I went out walking through the streets paved with gold
Lifted some stones saw the skin and bones
Of a city without a soul
I went out drifting through the capitals of tin
Where men can’t talk or freely walk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped by a church house where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don’t want God in it