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Wis. group fights for Tenn. baby name

By Jennifer Hoff, jhoff@wisctv.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:26:10 AM CST
Updated On: Aug 17 2013 11:33:42 AM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

A Wisconsin Atheist group filed a complaint against a judge who ordered a mother change her baby’s name.

The Tennessee boy goes by Messiah, but the change ordered the parents change it to Martin. Madison’s Freedom From Religion Foundation says the judge crossed a line.

The group believes in separation between church and state. It wants Judge Lu Ann Ballew to be disciplined, but the judge argued Messiah isn’t a name, rather a title reserved only for Jesus Christ.

The boy at the center of the great name debate is 7 months old. His parents couldn’t agree on a last name and is how they ended up in court.

“I had several people come up to me during the recess and tell me what the judge did wasn’t right and she had no right to do that to us at all,” said Messiah’s mother Jaleesa Martin.

It’s the first time the Cocke County, Tennessee judge ordered a name change. She said her ruling protects the boy who lives amongst a large Christian population.

“It could put him at odds with a lot of people at this point,” said Ballew. “At this point, he’s had no choice what his name is.”

This story has gained a lot of national attention, including that of the FFRF. “I think this is the first time we’ve handled something like this,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Gaylor doesn’t represent the boy’s parents, but says she does support them. She called Ballew unprofessional and the group filed a complaint with one goal.

“To get a finding that the judge has crossed the line, so that other judges don’t feel like they have impunity to boss people around in this manner to promote their own religion,” said Gaylor.

The boy’s mother still calls her baby Messiah and plans to appeal the judge’s ruling in court next month.

“Parents should be able to name their child anything they like and there’s no name that’s blasphemous,” said Gaylor.

Last year, the Social Security Administration’s annual list ranked Messiah among the top male names growing in popularity, but it ultimately ranked 387.

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