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The American Family Association has condemned a Tennessee judge for changing a baby's name from "Messiah" to "Martin," arguing the judiciary should not be able to dictate what name parents give their child.
Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association [AFA], a nonprofit that promotes traditional family values, said in a recent interview that although his organization agrees "with the judge's sentiments, 'that the only true Messiah is Jesus Christ'," it does not believe "that a judge should be able to rule on what parents name their child."
Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for government and public policy at the AFA, added to ABC News that in the past, parents have been able to name their child "Jesus" without legal trouble. "You think of the number of Hispanic parents that name their child Jesus -- that originated out of a desire to honor the person of Jesus Christ," Fischer said.
Last week, Jaleesa Martin and the father of 7-month-old "Messiah DeShawn Martin" appeared in child support court in Cocke County, Tenn. because they could not decide on a last name for their son. To the surprise of the parents, Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew changed both the last name and the first name of the child.
Judge Ballew, who serves the 4th Judicial District of Tennessee, ruled that the baby's name would be changed to "Martin DeShawn McCullough," which includes both parents' last names. Ballew explained that it was in the child's best interest to change his first name from "Messiah" to "Martin" because he was likely to receive public backlash growing up in Cocke County, which is primarily Christian, if his name was "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 in her ruling.
The baby's mother, Jaleesa Martin, has vowed to appeal the ruling, arguing that the judge does not have the right to inflict her personal beliefs on the naming of her child.
"I didn't think a judge could change my baby's name because of her religious beliefs," Martin told WBIR. The mother argued that she did not intend to name her child after Jesus Christ, but rather she felt the name "Messiah" worked well with the names of her other two children, Micah and Mason. "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."
The American Civil Liberties Union has also argued that Judge Ballew should not have changed the child's first name, saying that it is not the government's responsibility to name a child.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU in Tennessee, told USA Today that although Ballew has a right to hold her own personal religious beliefs, she "does not have the right to impose that faith on others […] and that is what she did."
"A parent has the right to choose their child's name. In this case, the judge is creating a culture where she is imposing her religious beliefs on others. And that is unacceptable," Weinberg said. The ACLU is reportedly reaching out to Martin to see if she needs legal assistance in her appeal process against Ballew's ruling.
According to the baby-naming blog Nameberry.com, "Messiah" was ranked number 387 on the list of most popular baby names for 2012.