FFRF had called on panel to act

FFRF applauds court action in Messiah case

The Freedom From Religion Foundation hailed action by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct late last week directing disciplinary charges be filed against a judge who ordered a baby's name changed from "Messiah" to "Martin."

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert had formally requested the state judicial board review the actions of Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew of Cocke County. The parents, Jalessa Martin and Jawaan McCullough, were disputing their 8-month-old son's surname (not the first name, Messiah) when Ballew interfered.

In her Aug. 14 letter, Markert noted that Ballew had violated Canons 1 and 2 of the Tennessee Code of Judicial Conduct, imposing "her own 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."

"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," Ballew told WBIR-TV in Knoxville in August. Another judge in September had held that Ballew's ruling was unconstitutional.

A three-member investigative panel of the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct on Oct. 23 found "reasonable cause to believe [Ballew] has committed judicial offenses."

Messiah was the 387th most popular name for boys born in the United States last year, according to the Reuters, based on Social Security card filings. Reuters found 762 applications for boys named Messiah in 2012.

Read FFRF's original press release, which includes a link to Aug. 14 letter.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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