Parents in Tennessee came to court to deal with a dispute over the last name to be used for their 7-month-old son. However, Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew ordered the first name to be changed because the parents had named the boy “Messiah.” Ballew admits that she has never ordered a first name change (particularly when both parents were in agreement with the name) but that messiah is a name earned by one person and “that one person is Jesus Christ.”
The bizarre ruling by Ballew came in a dispute of the estranged parents. She ordered the boy to be called Martin DeShawn McCullough. The mother’s name is Jaleesa Martin. The mother is appealing the decision.
First, it turns out that the name “Messiah” is the fourth most popular name among the fastest rising names. It also had the benefit of alliteration for the mother with his two siblings, Micah and Mason.
Second, and most importantly, it is not the province of a judge to police religious sensibilities. We have previously discussed how some countries require approval of names or ban the use of some names. This would not be one of those countries. It is particularly offensive when such action is taken to support religious sectarian interests. Ballew stated “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.” It is indeed a title but different people view its meaning and its identification differently. Jews for example are still awaiting the Messiah and do not believe that Jesus earned that title. The term is generally defined as meaning “a professed or accepted leader of some hope or cause.”
Ballew insisted that she is protecting the child since “[i]t could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is.” However, that forces parents to adhere to the demands of the religiously intolerant in society.
The order should be appealed and quickly reversed. More importantly, Ballew’s qualification to serve in any judicial function, even a relatively minor judicial office, needs to be reexamined. If her interests favor the ecclesiastical over the legal, there is a wealth of opportunities to be pursued.