A Tennessee judge has stirred controversy by ordering 7 month-old Messiah DeShawn Martin‘s first name to be changed to “Martin,” on the sound legal basis that “”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,” a ruling that will surely be a crushing disappointment to the likes of Major Garrett, Greg Sargent, and Rep. Steve King (R-IA). While the ruling itself is truly outrageous, and seems to stand little chance of being upheld, the kicker to this story is the name of the county in which Judge Lu Ann Ballew presides.
Judge Ballew was supposed to be settling a dispute, between Messiah’s parents, over the child’s last name, but took it upon herself to change his first name, too. From WBIR:
The name change was part of Judge Ballew’s case; however, the parents did not think the first name would be changed.
Judge Ballew ordered the 7-month-old’s name be “Martin DeShawn McCullough.” It includes both parent’s last names but leaves out Messiah.
“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,” Judge Ballew said.
Martin responded saying, “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.”
The decision, which mom Jaleesa Martin is appealing, is outrageous on several levels. Aside from the obvious imposition of her own religion (“Messiah” is not a term exclusively reserved for Jesus), the judge’s actions evoke the sick specter of slave owners enforcing name changes on their slaves, while also resting on the dubious legal theory that a proper name that’s also a title must be earned.
But if those grounds for appeal are unsuccessful, there’s also a case to be made that Judge Ballew lacks standing, because when you’re the Child Support Magistrate for a place called Cocke County, you don’t really have any business telling anyone to change their name:
Ballew said the name Messiah could cause problems if the child grows up in Cocke County, which has a large Christian population.
It doesn’t stop there, either, because you know the old saying: you can take the Christian out of Cocke, but you can’t take the Cocke out of the Christian.
Martin’s appeal will be heard on September 17. Here’s the report on Messiah’s name change, from WBIR:
[screengrab via WBIR-TV]
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