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article image'Baby Messiah': Parents win court battle over child's name

By Yukio Strachan     Sep 20, 2013 in Odd News
Newport - A Tennessee judge on Wednesday overturned a lower court's ruling that changed a baby's first name from "Messiah" to Martin because "'Messiah' is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ."
Chancellor Telford E. Forgety Jr. vacated Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew's order, ruling that the lower court acted unconstitutionally in August violating the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, local TV station WBIR reported.
He added that the court's purpose was to determine the last name of the child — not his first name.
By agreement of the parents, Forgety ordered the child's name to be changed to Messiah Deshawn McCullough. McCollough is the father's last name.
"They are just happy they can use the name that they gave the child and not the one that was picked by the judge," the plaintiff's attorney, Kristi Davis, said after the hearing of the boy's parents. "I felt all along that if the chancellor followed the law, this was the decision he would reach."
Messiah's parents say they can now focus on their baby, who they say they never stopped calling Messiah.
"His name is Messiah and we're keeping his name Messiah," said Jawaan McCullough, Messiah's father.
It all started at a paternity hearing when the parents were disputing the baby's last name. Messiah's mother, Jeleesa Martin, hoped to keep the last name she had given him — Messiah Deshawn Martin. Father Jawaan McCullough sought to have the baby take on his last name instead.
But Ballew surprised both parents.
After first approving Messiah Martin, local station Wate-TV writes, Ballew called a special hearing a week later, announcing she had changed not only his last name but his first as well, to Martin Deshawn McCullough. She said that the name Messiah was not in the baby's best interest.
"'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," the written order stated, according to the Associated Press.
With 35,662 people, Ballew also said that the name would likely offend many residents of Cocke County, with its large Christian population.
"I was shocked. I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God and I didn't think a judge could make me change my baby's name because of her religious beliefs," said Martin.
That decision quickly made international headlines.
Martin appealed the ruling following that decision. Her attorney, Kristi Davis, said they appealed for two reasons: the mother and the father agreed on the first name, and the decision was unconstitutional.
Judge Ballew, through a spokesperson with the Office of the Courts, had no comment on Forgety's decision.
Martin said she's relieved.
"I'm just happy," Martin said after the ruling. "I'm glad it's over with."
It may not be over for Judge Ballew. According to the AP, 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, the AP reported.
More about Baby Messiah, Jaleesa Martin, Name change, Religious freedom, separation of church and state
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