COPPERAS COVE, Tx, September 19, 2013 — In what is being hailed as a win for civil liberties, a Tennessee mother will not have to change her eight-month old baby’s first name from ‘Messiah’ to ‘Martin’.
On August 8, 2013 Jaleesa Martin and Jawaan McCullough appeared in Cocke County Chancery Court in Tennessee because they could not agree on a last name for their child.
Although both agreed on the child’s first, and middle name, Child support magistrate Lu Ann Ballew surprised both parents when she ordered Jaleesa Martin to change her son’s name from “Messiah DeShawn Martin” to “Martin DeShawn McCullough”, which includes both parent’s last names, but leaves out the name “Messiah”.
Ballew said that the name “Messiah” would likely offend many residents of Cocke County, with its large Christian population.
“The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Ballew told the baby’s parents.
According to the Associated Press, Ballew was even more direct in her written order.
“Messiah’ is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ,” and “Labeling this child ‘Messiah’ places an undue burden on him that as a human being, he cannot fulfill,” Ballew stated.
However, at an appeal hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court on Wednesday, Chancellor Telford E. Forgety overturned Ballew’s decision, finding that she acted unconstitutionally.
By agreement of the parents, Forgety ordered the child’s name to be changed to “Messiah DeShawn McCullough”.
Forgety said that there is no basis in the law for changing a child’s first name where both parents are in agreement about it. He also said that Ballew’s decision violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Speaking after Wednesday’s hearing, Jaleesa Martin said she had never stopped calling her baby Messiah, and that she found Ballew’s original ruling, “ridiculous”.
Both Martin and McCullough were in the courtroom along with Martin’s other two sons, Micah and Maison. Several other family members were also present, including Martin’s mother, who wore a T-shirt with the names of the three boys printed on the back next to tiny footprints.
“Everybody’s just happy,” Martin said after the ruling. “I’m glad it’s over with, and I know they are too.”
However, the case may not be “over with” for Judge Ballew.
Last month, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a complaint against the judge with the state’s Board of Judicial Conduct. (See pdf of letter attached above)
Stating in part that “Magistrate Ballew’s conduct in this matter sends a clear message to nonbelievers and those that practice minority religions that she is not neutral and that she will abuse her position to advance her own Christian views,” the Freedom From Religion Foundation has asked the Judicial Conduct Board to investigate Judge Ballew’s actions, and issue the proper sanctions or disciplinary actions to prevent future misconduct.
The board, however, has not yet made public any ruling on the complaint
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