A Newport, Tenn. judge has come under fire for ordering a couple in a dispute, to change their baby’s first name.
The couple, in a child support hearing, went before Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew of Cocke County to settle a dispute over the child’s last name, only to be told that the first name had to be changed, as well.
The child is now known as Martin DeShawn McCullough, which includes both parent’s last names of “Martin” and “McCullough,” a stark change from the moniker originally given to the baby: Messiah Deshawn.
While a representative in the Ballew’s chambers told the AFRO the judge was not available for comment, according to court documents released by The Tennessean, the judge wrote that the name had to be changed because “‘Messiah’ means Savior, Deliverer, the One who will restore God’s Kingdom. ‘Messiah’ is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ.”
Ballew went on to say that she thought into the future of the child, which would be spent in an area of the country that is predominantly Christian.
“Labeling this child, ‘Messiah’ places an undue burden on him that as a human being, he cannot fulfill,” she wrote.
According to wbir.com, Ballew said the case marked the first time she has ordered a first name change. She said the decision is best for the child, especially while growing up in a county with a large Christian population.
"It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is," Judge Ballew said.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director for the ACLU for Tennessee, disagrees.
“While we support the judge’s right to her own religious faith, she cannot impose that faith on others- which is exactly what she did when she required the parents to change their child’s name from ‘Messiah’ to ‘Martin,’” Weinberg told the AFRO, adding that she has never seen a ruling similar to this case.
“The bench is not a pulpit and using it as one violates the parent’s rights to make a very private and personal decision.”
Jaleesa Martin, mother of the 7-month-old, is appealing the decision and will go before the Cocke County Chancellor on Sept. 17.
When asked by a WBIR-TV reporter what type of precedent was being set for Latino Americans who name their child “Jesus,” the judge simply said, “That’s not relevant to this case.”