Aug 12, 2013

We have so much freedom in the United States, that you can name your child almost anything you want (just ask little Adolf Hitler Campbell). But one judge in Tennessee has decided to draw the line for a baby named “Messiah” because it could be offensive to Christians.

Messiah’s parents were in a state court last week because they couldn’t agree on what their 7-month-old son’s last name should be. When Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew found out the baby’s first name, however, she took it upon herself to change it because she said the infant might grow up in Cocke County, which has a sizable Christian population.

Ballew claimed the name Messiah “could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is,” according to ABC News.  

The judge also said only one figure – Jesus Christ – can be called 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,” Ballew said, according to ABC.

But as media outlets have noted, it’s not only perfectly legal to name a child Messiah. In fact, that name is gaining in popularity. It was fourth on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) 2012 list of fastest-rising baby names.

Plus, there are lots of Americans running around with the name “Jesus.” That name was the 101st most popular baby name in the country in 2012, according to the SSA. Would Ballew force every Jesus to pick a new name because someone might somehow be offended that a person shares the same name as the figure Christians consider the son of God?

Ballew ultimately decided to name the child Martin DeShawn McCullough, which incorporates the last names of both parents. Martin/Messiah’s mother said she plans to appeal the decision. (Here’s an irony for you: The name “Martin” is derived from the Roman “Martinus,” which means “servant of Mars.” Mars was the Roman god of war. So the kid is still named for a god. Oh no!)

“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,” said Jaleesa Martin, the child’s mother.

She’s absolutely right. There is nothing in U.S. law that forbids a parent from using a religiously themed name for a child. And since there is no law forbidding the use of Jesus, Messiah, Muhammad or any number of other names, Ballew was not simply free to create her own ban.

Nor is it Ballew’s job to worry about what might or might not offend the Christians of Cocke County, Tenn., because she shouldn’t be protecting the perceived sensibilities of a single religious group. Her only job was to decide on the baby’s last name, and she overstepped her bounds.

The U.S. Constitution does not provide for legal decisions to be made on religious grounds. Ballew had best learn that before she makes any other awful rulings.

In the meantime, we hope Jaleesa Martin wins her appeal.