NEWPORT, Tenn. – A Tennessee judge has overturned an earlier court ruling by declaring that two parents have the constitutional right to name their child “Messiah.”
As previously reported, Child Support Magistrate LuAnn Ballew of Tennessee’s 4th Judicial District ruled last month in a name dispute case that two unmarried parents could not name their 8-month-old son “Messiah.”
“[I]t is not in this child’s best interest to keep the first name, ‘Messiah,’” Ballew decided, according to official court documents obtained by WBIR.
“‘Messiah’ means Savior, Deliverer, the One who will restore God’s Kingdom,” the judge continued. “‘Messiah’ is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ.”
Ballew also referenced eastern Tennessee’s large Christian population in her verdict, saying “it is highly likely that [the boy] will offend many Cocke County citizens by calling himself ‘Messiah.’”
The baby’s mother, Jaleesa Martin, expressed indignation after the ruling, saying she was “shocked” by the judge’s decision.
“I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God,” she told reporters, “and I didn’t think a judge could make me change my baby’s name because of her religious beliefs. … Everybody believes what they want, so I think I should be able to name my child what I want to name him, not someone else.”
According to the Associated Press, Martin chose to name her child Messiah because she liked how it sounded with the names of her other two sons—Micah and Maison.
Following Judge Ballew’s decision, the ACLU harshly criticized the verdict as a Christian-biased ruling.
“Parents, not government, have the right to give a child a name,” Hedy Weinberg of the Tennessee ACLU told reporters. “While the judge certainly has a right to her religious faith, she cannot impose that faith on people who come to her courtroom. The promotion of religious beliefs from the bench challenges our belief in due process in the legal system.”
Despite the criticism, Judge Ballew stood by her initial verdict.
“The word ‘Messiah’ is a title,” she told WBIR, “and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person—and that one person is Jesus Christ. … It could put [the baby] at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is.”
After the controversial court ruling, the child’s parents continued calling him Messiah, and eventually filed a legal appeal to the initial verdict.
As reported by Reuters, Chancellor Telford E. Forgety Jr. officially reversed Ballew’s decision this month, declaring that Messiah is a permissible name for the young boy. Martin’s lawyer said Forgety found the initial ruling to be a violation of the separation of church and state, since “the rationale for her decision was based on her Christian beliefs.”
“[The boy’s parents] are just happy they can use the name that they gave the child and not the one that was picked by the judge,” the lawyer further stated. “I felt all along that if the chancellor followed the law, this was the decision he would reach. … I think it’s truly a recognition by the citizens of our country that when a judge oversteps his or her bounds and infringes on the constitutional rights of the people that come in front of them, it’s something that we don’t like, and it’s something that we pay attention to.”
“Everybody’s just happy,” Martin said after the chancellor’s ruling. “I’m glad it’s over with, and I know they are too.”
Photo: Heidi Wigdahl