Atheists Outraged Over Sign Honoring 9/11 Firefighters
This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," June 21, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Tonight, the shocking fallout from NBC omitting "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance during the official U.S. Open coverage last weekend. We're going to have more on that in just a minute.
But first, to the men of New York City's Engine 202, Ladder 101, well, they were not only brave heroes, they were brothers. Seven of the groups' finest firefighters, they died on 9/11.
Now part of a road in Red Hook, Brooklyn, has been renamed "Seven in Heaven Way" in their honor, but not everyone is happy about it. In fact, a group of local atheists are angry with the new street sign. They're arguing it's, quote, "Improper for the city to endorse the view that heaven exists. It links Christianity and heroism."
While another insists, quote, "The problem with the sign is that you are assuming you know what they felt deep down. You are assuming they believed in heaven."
You got to be kidding. So what is the world coming to when we can commemorate the ultimate sacrifice of seven fallen firefighters without controversy?
Joining now for a fair and balanced debate Jay Sekulow from the American Center for Law and Justice and the executive director for the Center for Inquiry in New York City, Michael De Dora is with us.
I'd like to point out by the way that we did invite the New York City Atheists to provide us a guest for tonight's show to defend their position. They were unable to join us due to a previous commitment. So, Mr. De Dora will be representing their side of the argument. Welcome to the program.
You know something, I guess, Michael, I guess, the only way to put this, it seems that those on the left are not happy until we actually remove the name of God from the public square.
We can't have nativity scenes. Kids can't mention God in their valedictorian address. You can't have this honor, for these brave men that nobody except a few people that don't even live on the street are offended about. Why? Where is your tolerance?
MICHAEL DE DORA, CENTER FOR INQUIRY IN NEW YORK CITY: Well, this family, I should say that this family has every right of course to observe the sacrifice of these firefighters. And of course, I appreciate what these firefighters did.
HANNITY: I didn't ask you that. I asked you, where is the tolerance of people on the left and why is this your mission to push God out of the public --
DE DORA: The mission here is simply separation of church and state. As I was going to say, the family --
HANNITY: Where does it say church and state, where? It's not our Constitution, is it?
DE DORA: It is the First Amendment of the Constitution.
HANNITY: No, it is not.
DE DORA: Let me just finish my thought really quickly. The First Amendment of the Constitution says that the government cannot endorse religion over non-religion or one specific sector of religion. Have you ever read?
HANNITY: It doesn't say that at all. Yes, I have a copy right here.
JAY SEKULOW, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: The Constitution says Congress should make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Of course, Michael, here's the question, what religion is being established here?
Do you really believe as the press statements of the American Atheist Association say, that by saying Seven in Heaven Way, which is, by the way, just like having St. Paul Street, St. Mark Street, Rabi Eleazar Street, which is also in New York.
The idea that now all of a sudden you have a reference to Seven in Heaven and you've established, what, a national religion in the United States? That is absolute nonsense both legally and logically.
DE DORA: It's certainly not establishing a religion but it is endorsing a certain type of religion.
SEKULOW: That's it! That's the case!
DE ROSA: The signs that you mentioned before are a little different because they are recognized in a specific human being and his role as a rabbi or priest or something of that nature. This is a little different because the government is endorsing a certain view.
SEKULOW: Well, I would think that -- that is Constitutional. I mean, Seven in Heaven, what region has been established? What official established religion has been put in place by saying Seven in Heaven?
DE DORA: It is not that they are establishing a certain religion as the official state religion.
SEKULOW: But the Constitution says respecting an establishment of religion. That's what the Constitution says.
DE DORA: Let me ask you this, if atheists had somehow rallied to get a sign that said these seven are not in heaven, you would you be equally upset. To be honest with you, I would not be happy with that either. What this gets at is that government should not endorse one religion or one non-religion.
SEKULOW: By the way, in Kentucky there's a town called Allah Avenue and it's a town in Kentucky that is acknowledging a Muslim population in their community. There's a Koran Street also I think in Pennsylvania.
This idea that you are having an acknowledgement of religion doesn't establish anything. The idea that some group is upset because Seven in Heaven as they are affectionately known in their community in the ladder group of the fire department. The idea that now that is a violation of the Constitution, come on it is ridiculous. You know it and I know it, maybe that is why the atheist association is not showing up tonight.
HANNITY: Michael, our founding document, our Declaration of Independence says --
DE DORA: -- which by the way has no binding. The Declaration of Independence might be a founding document, it has no legal standing though.
HANNITY: It says we are endowed by our creator.
DE DORA: What does the Constitution say? That is the letter right there.
HANNITY: How does "Seven in Heaven" in any way establish a religion? That's what the Constitution says.
DE DORA: It endorses specific religious views that heaven exists.
HANNITY: What religion? What religion?
SEKULOW: You know, every time you say it is not establishing, it's not endorsing, you have gone through every establishment clause and you say it doesn't violate any of them.
So what exactly in the Constitution, in the First Amendment does "Seven in Heaven" violate?
DE DORA: The Constitution says -- the government that is -- is not supposed to endorse a religion over non-religion.
SEKULOW: No, it says shall pass no law respecting an establishment of a religion. That's what the First Amendment to the United States Constitution says. What religion has been established?
DE DORA: The idea of heaven, where does that come from?
SEKULOW: Actually it is out of Old Testament. Do you think "Seven in Heaven" is establishing Judaism as the religion of Brooklyn, New York?
DE DORE: No, because most Jewish people I know don't even believe in heaven.
SEKULOW: A lot of Jewish people do believe in it. By the way --
HANNITY: Michael, you obviously can't be a lawyer?
DE DORA: No, I'm not a lawyer. I have a background in political theory.
HANNITY: So it's clear you don't understand the establishment clause.
DE DORA: Sean, are you a lawyer?
HANNITY: No, but Jay Sekulow is and I'm in full agreement with Jay and I've studied the establishment clause.
DE DORA: My point was that even if it is not establishing the Christian religion, which I think heaven does -- establishing a religious view. It's endorsing a religious view.
SEKULOW: Wait a minute, you think establishing a religious view is a violation of the Constitution?
DE DORA: Well --
SEKULOW: If you do --
DE DORA: Yes.
SEKULOW: You think "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance establishes a religion?
HANNITY: What religion?
DE DORA: I think "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is another unconstitutional thing --
SEKULOW: -- because they're very good at censoring those things these days.
DE DORA: Sean, I don't need to argue that this establishes or endorses a specific religion, say a specific sect of Christianity.
HANNITY: What does the Constitution say?
DE DORA: The Constitution says that a government should not endorse or establish any religion, at all.
SEKULOW: For the fourth time, the establishment clause does not say endorse. The establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution says no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
There's nothing about -- it is not a church-state separation. It doesn't say endorse. No one is establishing a religion here. You are saying it's Christianity. There's no mention of Jesus, gospels, anything to do with the Christianity other than the concept of heaven, which is by the way, within Judaism, Christianity, Islam and every major religion of the world so this is a ridiculous argument that the atheist are making here.
DE ROSA: It's a separation of church and state issue that's all it is.
HANNITY: Appreciate you being with us.
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