The following Today show video is about a name-change case in Cocke County, Tennessee. A judge (magistrate) named Lu Ann Ballew has taken the odd and drastic step of legally changing the name of a baby from Messiah to Martin. The mother involved is Jaleesa Martin. The father’s name was not mentioned in reports that I have seen on this legal story. This video aired on the August 12, 2013 episode of Today.
The case wasn’t even about the first name. The parents were only disagreeing on the last name. Ballew did probably the right thing by giving the baby the last names of both the father and mother. That is a fair and just way of resolving the dispute over the last name. But then Ballew seemingly way overstepped her bounds by changing the baby’s first name.
For starters, Ballew’s decision, which she claimed was made because she thinks “Messiah” is a title that has only been earned by Jesus Christ, most likely violates the First Amendment. It essentially forces the parents to observe a religious belief. And no American is required to do that unless it is related to a secular law that is not based on a religious belief. But Ballew’s decision clearly rested on her Christian beliefs.
Second, and I am not sure about Tennessee law, but there is also the issue of a judge acting where there is no case or controversy. Neither parent petitioned for a change of the baby’s first name. So the courts have to decide whether the judge even had the right to make such a decision in the first place.
Third, parents have a federal constitutional right to make decisions related to their child. There must be clear and convincing evidence of abuse or neglect of a child before a court can intervene. I don’t see any clear and convincing evidence of wrongdoing. Ballew just has some phantom belief that Christians will give the baby a hard time for being named “Messiah.” There is no proof of this whatsoever. I have never even heard such a belief about this name.
There are so many bad things about this decision, that it is likely to get overturned one way or another. And one has to wonder if Lu Ann Ballew can be trusted as a magistrate to follow the law instead of pushing her personal Christian agenda.