Tennessee Judge outlaws Messiah

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 13 August 2013)
A sensible decision, but not the judge’s call to make.

An interesting case has cropped up in Tennessee, USA. Jaleesa Martin of Newport, Tennessee, named her baby Messiah DeShawn Martin. The father of the child, an unidentified Mr McCullough objected, stating his surname should be on the birth certificate.

There followed a child support hearing at Cocke County (I know, make your own jokes) Court, in which Judge Lu Ann Ballew was asked to officiate over which surname the child should carry. Instead Judge Ballew ordered that the child be called Martin DeShawn McCullough.

Judge Ballew’s gave her decision stating “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 the first time Judge Ballew has ordered a first name change. She claimed that it was fairest as the name she chose includes the surnames of both parents. She also stated that it is in the child’s best interests living in a county with a large, devout 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 added.

Jaleesa Martin is outraged and does not believe the judge has acted fairly. “I was shocked. I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God and I didn’t think a judge could make me change my baby’s name because of her religious beliefs,” Jaleesa stated, adding, “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.” She has stated she will continue to call her 7 month son Messiah and is appealing the Judge Ballew’s decision.

There are several issues in this case. I don’t know who to bitchslap harder; the judge or the child’s mother?

But let us start with Judge Lu Ann Ballew. Firstly, she based her judgement wholly upon Christian belief. That is in direct contravention to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. The First Amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”; that seems clear enough to me, sitting in Edinburgh, Scotland, not a US citizen and never having set foot in the country. Why then is it so very hard for Judge Ballew, not just a citizen but an American elected to a very responsible public office, to understand that?

The First Amendment is based upon the “Wall of separation between church and state, which Thomas Jefferson laid out in his letter to the Dunbury Baptist Association, dated 1 January, 1802;

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Were that not enough, the wording of the Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by Congress in 1797 makes the matter perfectly clear, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”.

Yet Judge Lu Ann Ballew gave her judgement based clearly upon the Christian religion, in which she obviously holds a strong belief. This is evidenced by her own words, “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.”

That statement again contravenes the First Amendment and the wall of separation between church and state. It also exhibits bigotry towards other religions and Judge Ballew is wholly inaccurate in her statement. Many faiths have prophecies of or have had members of their faith whom have been claimed to be the “messiah”; their deliverer. Judaism has had quite a number from Simon of Peraea (unknown-4BCE) to Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994). There have been many whom Muslims have considered to be the Mahdi – the messiah who will return alongside Jesus (a prophet in Islam), from Muhammad Juanpuri (1443-1505) to Rashad Khalifa (1935–1990). Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism all have their prophecies of messiahs, while many Rastafarians consider that the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I was the messiah who will one day return.

If Judge Ballew therefore maintains that Jesus alone has “earned” the title of Messiah, she is not only inaccurate, she displays that she believes her God to be the one and only true God, which is evidence of bigotry towards other faiths. She furthermore clearly exhibits that she is willing to make judgements based upon her own personal belief in Christianity, which is abusing her public office appointment as a judge to enforce her faith upon others. Should anyone doubt that, consider would Judge Ballew have ordered a name change upon a baby boy named Mohammed, after the prophet, of which there are more than one or two in the world? I doubt it, for the simple reason I would argue that Islam, or any other faith, is an irrelevance to her.

Then to further compound her position, Judge Ballew, when asked what of children who are named Jesus, of which there are a great many across the USA, said she had thought of that but “that is not relevant to this case.” There is a word for that madam, it’s called hypocrisy.

Judge Ballew also overstepped her mark. She was asked to decide on a surname, and chose instead to alter both the surname and forename of the child. It is the first time she has changed a forename and she took the decision to make that ruling without consultation from either parent, nor their legal representatives. I would argue therefore that it was outwith her remit to make that decision and that it therefore should have no legal authority.

Her argument that she acted in the child’s best interest may be a strong one, but that was not her decision to make. It matters not what the name in question was. Imagine if you had a child named John and a judge told you that you had to name him Dave? How would you feel about that? One can clearly understand then why Jaleesa Martin feels incensed. And to argue “at this point he has had no choice in what his name is” cuts absolutely no ice. There is not a child born gets a choice in what their name is, therefore that argument is irrelevant.

I do not believe for one moment that Judge Ballew was sincere when she said she was acting in the best interests of the child. If she were, then she would have taken both parents aside, voiced her concerns to both of them over the name Messiah and gently persuaded them to change the name, giving the sound reasoning that it could cause the child problems in society in later life. Instead she enforced a ruling upon both parents and the child which actually impinges upon the rights of all three.

Given that she took this decision based wholly upon her Christian beliefs, contravening the First Amendment, and going beyond her remit of what was asked of her, I would argue that Judge Lu Ann Ballew is wholly unfit for the very responsible public office which she holds.

As to the mother, Jaleesa Martin, girl – what were you thinking of? Were you thinking at all? It matters not that the US Social Security Office has recorded more than 700 children named Messiah, it is a ridiculous name to give any child. It seems to me that there are simply people who do not consider the future of a child when they name them. One can only feel sorry for Pixie Frou Frou Geldof and Moon Unit Zappa, but at least their money and social standing keeps them safe. No such luck for the Farquhar’s, Bali’s, and Chlamydia’s (I kid you not)- and Messiah’s, whose school years are going to be torture. And it is nothing new. When working in the UK government’s pensions department, I once came across the file of a woman (now deceased) named Kennethina. This was probably from a family who wanted a boy but got a girl. That doesn’t excuse it, nor does anything excuse naming a child Messiah.

I will give Judge Lu Ann Ballew her due that she is correct in stating that naming a child is likely to cause consternation in a highly Christian community. It shall indeed and that is something which both parents of the child should have taken into consideration when naming him. That they obviously did not, I despair at. Likewise for Jaleesa to claim “I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God”, I’d like to know just exactly which planet she has been living on? Ultimately there can be no winners in this case, and my thoughts are neither with Judge Lu Ann Ballew nor Jaleesa Martin, but rather with the innocent and bonny 7 month old wee boy at the centre of this debacle.

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