Judge in ‘Messiah’ case charged with code violation
The Fourth Judicial District Child Support Magistrate, who initially refused to allow a baby to be named Messiah, has been charged with judicial code violations by the state’s Board of Judicial Conduct.
A three-member investigative panel associated with the board filed a formal report against Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew in Cocke County earlier this week.
In August, Ballew ordered the name of 8-month-old baby Messiah Deshawn Martin be changed. She stated in her ruling that the name “Messiah” was a title reserved only for Jesus Christ.
But in September, Chancellor Telford Forgety overruled Ballew’s decision, holding that she had acted unconstitutionally.
During that hearing, Kristi Davis, representing the child’s mother Jaleesa Martin, told the court that the issue before Ballew had only to do with the boy’s last name. His father wanted the boy to have his name McCullough.
Initially, Ballew had approved the first name of Messiah, but a week later called the parents back to court and told them she had decided to change the child’s first name, even though there was no dispute in that regard.
The magistrate explained her ruling saying that “Messiah means Savior, Deliverer, the One who will restore God’s Kingdom. Messiah is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ,” and she added that “labeling this child, ‘Messiah,’ places an undue burden on him that as a human being, he cannot fulfill.
The court, in her ruling, also took judicial notice of the fact that Cocke County has a large Christian population, as evidenced by the many churches of the Christian faith located in Cocke County.
The court went on to hold, “Therefore, it is highly likely that he will offend many Cocke County citizens by calling himself Messiah.
Davis told Forgety that the ruling “doesn’t give the people of Cocke County enough credit.”
They can differentiate a name from a title,” she told the court.
The Chancellor held that the lower court, at least partially based her opinion on religious grounds, which he held is a violation of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution
And so he returned the name, Messiah, to the child
After the ruling Martin said of the original ruling, “I just thought it was ridiculous. I’m glad it’s over.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation asked for an investigation and discipline of Ballew who it argued had shown religious favoritism by ordering the name change because “it apparently offended the judge’s Christian sensibilities.”
The state board’s charges allege Ballew did not promote confidence in the judiciary or uphold the law without bias or partiality through her actions.
Ballew now has 30 days to answer the board’s charges, according to the documents filed in the case. After she responds, the board will hold a hearing on the case within 60 days.
- From Staff Reports