Tenn. judge: Baby can be named 'Messiah'

2013-09-19T11:10:00Z 2013-09-19T11:19:48Z Tenn. judge: Baby can be named 'Messiah'The Associated Press The Associated Press

NEWPORT, Tenn. — A Tennessee woman will be allowed to name her 8-month-old son "Messiah," a judge ruled Wednesday, overturning an order from another judge who said the boy's name should be changed to Martin because "'Messiah' is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ."

Jaleesa Martin said she couldn't believe it when child support magistrate Lu Ann Ballew last month ordered Martin's 8-month-old son's name changed during a paternity hearing. The parents were disputing the baby's surname, with Martin hoping to keep the name she had given him — Messiah Deshawn Martin — and father Jawaan McCullough wanting the baby to bear his last name.

Ballew surprised both parents by ordering that the baby's name change to Martin Deshawn McCullough, saying that the name Messiah was not in the baby's best interest. Her written order stated that "'Messiah' is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ," and "Labeling this child 'Messiah' places an undue burden on him that as a human being, he cannot fulfill."

She also said that the name would likely offend many residents of Cocke County, with its large Christian population.

That decision quickly made international news, and the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a complaint against Ballew with the state's Board of Judicial Conduct. The board has not yet made any public ruling on the complaint.

At an appeal hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court on Wednesday, Chancellor Telford E. Forgety overturned Ballew's decision, finding that she acted unconstitutionally.

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