A magistrate court judge in Tennessee who forced a couple to change the name of their child from Messiah to Martin has been cited for religious bias by a state ethics panel and will face a disciplinary hearing.
Lu Ann Ballew, a child support magistrate in Cocke County of eastern Tennessee, had been settling a dispute about child support and the last name of Messiah Deshawn MCCullough, the child of Jaleesa Martin, and Jawaan McCullough. Neither parent had expressed interest in changing the child’s first name.
“At the conclusion of the hearing, [Ballew] ordered that the child’s name be change to Martin Deshawn McCullough,” a three-judge panel of the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct noted in a report Wednesday citing her for probable misconduct. Ballew’s statement supporting the name change filed by her with the order on August 13, 2013 said that “This court finds that it is not in the child’s best interest to keep the first name, ‘Messiah’. ‘Messiah’ means Savior, Deliverer, the One who will restore God’s Kingdom. ‘Messiah’ is a title held only by Jesus Christ.”
The order sparked outrage, both by the parents and more broadly by groups viewing it as an unwanted intrusion of religious views by the court. The parents appealed. Telford E. Forgety, Jr., chancellor of the Fourth and Fifth Judicial Districts of Tennessee, held that Ballew’s ruling was unconstitutional.
The state board finding charges Ballew with failing to promote confidence in the judiciary and failing to uphold the law without bias or partiality through her actions.
Now Ballew will face a hearing panel of the Board of Judicial Conduct in Tennessee within 60 days. She has 30 days to answer the board’s charges.
Reuters noted that Messiah was the 387th most popular name for boys born in the United States in 2012, based on applications for Social Security cards, and that 762 parents applied for boys named Messiah last year, more than double the 368 applications made in 2011.