Messiah has returned, if not in the biblical sense. A Tennessee judge has overturned an order denying the right of a couple to name their son “Messiah.”
The parents of the child, now 8 months old, were told by magistrate Lu Ann Ballew in August that “’Messiah’ is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ.”
As Howard Portnoy noted, the claim is one that followers of religions outside of Christianity would take issue with. But Jaleesa Martin and the child’s father, Jawaan McCullough, had other objections to the judge’s ruling.
They enlisted the aid of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, which filed a complaint against Ballew with the state’s Board of Judicial Conduct. Although the board has yet to rule on the complaint, in the interim, a second judge, Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, overturned Ballew’s decision on Wednesday, finding that she had acted unconstitutionally.
Forgety said that there is no basis in the law for changing a child’s first name where both parents are in agreement about it. He also said that Ballew’s decision violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The child’s name has been changed back to Messiah Deshawn McCullough — which is what Martin has been calling the baby regardless of the judge’s determination. She told reporters, she had picked out the name because she liked the way it sounded with the names of her other two sons, Micah and Maison.
“Everybody’s just happy,” she said after Wednesday’s ruling. “I’m glad it’s over with, and I know they are too,” she added, referring to family members who had come to court to offer their moral support.
Martin’s attorney, Kristi Davis, said after the hearing that she was not surprised by how much public interest the case had generated, saying it is “a reflection of the fact that we, as Americans, care about our civil liberties”:
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.