Atheist Group Files Complaint Against Judge Who Changed 'Messiah' Baby Name

A Wisconsin-based atheist organization has filed a formal complaint against a Tennessee magistrate who changed the appellation of a baby named "Messiah" for religious reasons.

Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the complaint to Tennessee's Board of Judicial Conduct against Lu Ann Ballew, a child support magistrate for the state's Fourth Judicial District.

On Thursday, Aug. 8, Ballew ruled at a hearing over a dispute regarding a baby's name that it must be changed from Messiah DeShawn Martin to Martin DeShawn McCullough.

In a later interview, Ballew explained that the removal of the name Messiah came from her belief that only Jesus Christ could be granted such a title.

The FFRF took issue with Ballew's views, sending a letter Wednesday to the board explaining their grievances with the decision over the name dispute.

Rebecca Markert, staff attorney for FFRF, directed the letter to Timothy R. Discenza, disciplinary counsel for the Board of Judicial Conduct in Nashville.

"Her statements regarding her decision to change the child's name imposed her own personal religious beliefs upon parties coming before her thus calling into question her ability to conduct herself in a manner that 'promotes public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary,'" wrote Markert.

"[Ballew has] shown a lack of respect and compliance with the law by using her position as a child support magistrate to endorse a Christian viewpoint in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."

Earlier this month, Jaleesa Martin and the father of 7-month-old Messiah DeShawn Martin appeared in child support court in Cocke County, Tenn., because they were unable to decide on a last name for their son. To their surprise, Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew changed both the last name and the first name.

"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," said Ballew in her ruling.

Regarding opposition to Ballew's actions, FFRF finds an unlikely ally in the socially conservative organization the American Family Association.

AFA President Tom Wildmon explained to ABC News that while he agreed that only Jesus is the true messiah he disagreed "that a judge should be able to rule on what parents name their child."

According to the baby-naming blog, Messiah was ranked number 387 on the list of most popular baby names for 2012.

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