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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants an investigation and possible discipline for a Tennessee magistrate who showed religious favoritism by ordering a child's legal first name to be changed because it apparently offended the judge's Christian sensibilities.

According to FFRF's complainants and news reports, Lu Ann Ballew, a child support magistrate for the Fourth Judicial District of Tennessee, presided over a child support hearing Aug. 8 in Cocke County Chancery Court. The hearing was being held to settle a dispute over a 7-month-old's last name.

At the hearing's conclusion, Ballew ordered the boy's name changed from Messiah DeShawn Martin to Martin DeShawn McCullough. According to a published interview she gave to WBIR-TV in Knoxville, the name change was warranted because “[t]he 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 further said that a child named Messiah would have a hard time growing up in a county with a large Christian population: “It could put him at odds with a lot of people, and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is.”

FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a letter of complaint Aug. 14 to Timothy R. Discenza, disciplinary counsel for the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct in Nashville.

Markert noted that such conduct "send a clear message to nonbelievers and those who practice minority religions that [Ballew] is not neutral and that she will abuse her position to advance her own Christian views. Ms. Jaleesa Martin, the child’s mother, stated '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.' "

Martin, who told reporters she will appeal, said she likes how Messiah sounds alongside her son's two siblings, Micah and Mason.

FFRF asserted the magistrate violated Canons 1 and 2 of the Tennessee Code of Judicial Conduct through her actions. "Her statements regarding her decision to change the child’s name imposed her own personal 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.' "

Markert added that Ballew has "shown a lack of respect and compliance with the law by using her position as a child support magistrate to endorse a Christian viewpoint in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."

FFRF requested an investigation to determine to what extent Ballew may have violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and that proper sanctions be issued to prevent future misconduct if violations are deemed to have occurred.

Messiah ranked fourth among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration's annual list of popular baby names.

Statement by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
Co-Presidents
Freedom From Religion Foundation

What a disappointment to see the White House side with congressional Republicans and theocrats in the upcoming Supreme Court case over opening town councils almost exclusively with Christian prayer.

The Obama administration just submitted a friend of the court brief on behalf of the town of Greece, N.Y., and the Alliance Defending Freedom, the arch-Religious Right legal group defending the town’s Christian prayer policy. Besides promoting religion in government, ADF primarily works to overturn abortion rights and obstruct marriage equality.

The high court accepted the town’s appeal of a strong decision by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that ruled the practice of opening government meetings with Christian prayer is unconstitutional.

The development is highly troubling, with court watchers speculating the case gives the conservative majority a chance to overturn Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s “endorsement” standard. Under the former justice’s test, a government act violates the First Amendment if it appears to endorse religion.

We’re watching this case closely at FFRF, which will be submitting a friend of the court brief, because one of the most common state/church complaints we receive from members is over inappropriate government prayer. In fact, FFRF had its start back in 1976 because of encountering (and eventually stopping) prayer before the city council in Madison, Wis.

The lawsuit against Greece was brought on behalf of two female residents, one atheist and one Jewish, by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Beside U.S. federal government officials, other politicians giving aid and succor to the Christian Right include 85 House members and 34 senators who joined two amicus briefs. Of the representatives, all but one — Mike McIntyre of North Carolina — are Republicans. Of the senators, all but one are Republicans (Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana).

Nearly half of state attorneys general (23) signed onto a brief filed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has taken several vicious public potshots at the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

When so few Democrats broke ranks to endorse unadulterated Christian preaching at local government meetings, it is doubly disappointing that the Obama administration would choose to ally with its political enemies to further entangle religion and government.

Prayer in government is truly running amok. Late last week, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley chimed in to publicly condemn FFRF for our work to stop the third annual “prayer caravan” called by Cullman County Superintendent Billy Coleman.

Coleman organized and spoke at a Christian rally Aug. 10 before the event, quoting the bible’s admonition to “pray without ceasing.” The outrageous “caravan” involved prayerful crowds visiting some 29 public schools .

Bentley said: "I personally believe that one of the problems we have in this country is taking God out of, not only our lives, but out of government.”

One of the biggest problems we have in this country is pandering public officials who misuse their civil authority to push their personal religious views on the rest of us. Government shouldn’t have a prayer.

Our message to pious politicians remains: Get off your knees and get to work.

TAKE ACTION!

Contact The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Call the President
Phone Numbers
Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414

TTY/TTD
Comments: 202-456-6213
Visitor's Office: 202-456-2121

Read Brief by U.S. Government HERE.

• Complain to your U.S. Representative if he or she signed on, see list HERE.

See House Amicus Brief HERE.

Find and contact your representative HERE.

• Complain to your U.S. Senator if he or she signed on, see list HERE.

See Senate Amicus Brief HERE.

Find and contact your senator HERE.

• Complain to your State Attorney General if he or she signed on, see list HERE.

• Read more about how Alabama Governor opposed FFRF, supported the Cullman Co. Prayer Caravan HERE.

%685 %America/Chicago, %2013

U.S. Senators In Support of Petition List

  • Marco Rubio
  • Lamar Alexander
  • John Barrasso
  • Roy Blunt
  • John Boozman
  • Richard Burr
  • Saxby Chambliss
  • Jeff Chiesa
  • Dan Coats
  • Bob Corker
  • John Cornyn
  • Mike Crapo
  • Ted Cruz
  • Mike Enzi
  • Deb Fisher 
  • Lindsey Graham
  • Orrin Hatch
  • John Hoeven
  • Jim Inhofe
  • Johnny Isakson
  • Mike Johanns
  • Ron Johnson
  • Mary Landrieu
  • Mike Lee
  • Mitch McConnell
  • Jerry Moran
  • Rob Portman
  • Jim Risch
  • Pat Roberts
  • Tim Scott
  • John Thune
  • Pat Toomey
  • David Vitter
  • Roger Wicker

Statement by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
Co-Presidents
Freedom From Religion Foundation

What a disappointment to see the White House side with congressional Republicans and theocrats in the upcoming Supreme Court case over opening town councils almost exclusively with Christian prayer.

The Obama administration just submitted a friend of the court brief on behalf of the town of Greece, N.Y., and the Alliance Defending Freedom, the arch-Religious Right legal group defending the town’s Christian prayer policy. Besides promoting religion in government, ADF primarily works to overturn abortion rights and obstruct marriage equality.

The high court accepted the town’s appeal of a strong decision by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that ruled the practice of opening government meetings with Christian prayer is unconstitutional.

The development is highly troubling, with court watchers speculating the case gives the conservative majority a chance to overturn Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s “endorsement” standard. Under the former justice’s test, a government act violates the First Amendment if it appears to endorse religion.

We’re watching this case closely at FFRF, which will be submitting a friend of the court brief, because one of the most common state/church complaints we receive from members is over inappropriate government prayer. In fact, FFRF had its start back in 1976 because of encountering (and eventually stopping) prayer before the city council in Madison, Wis.

The lawsuit against Greece was brought on behalf of two female residents, one atheist and one Jewish, by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Beside U.S. federal government officials, other politicians giving aid and succor to the Christian Right include 85 House members and 34 senators who joined two amicus briefs. Of the representatives, all but one — Mike McIntyre of North Carolina — are Republicans. Of the senators, all but one are Republicans (Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana). 

Nearly half of state attorneys general (23) signed onto a brief filed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has taken several vicious public potshots at the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

When so few Democrats broke ranks to endorse unadulterated Christian preaching at local government meetings, it is doubly disappointing that the Obama administration would choose to ally with its political enemies to further entangle religion and government.

Prayer in government is truly running amok. Late last week, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley chimed in to publicly condemn FFRF for our work to stop the third annual “prayer caravan” called by Cullman County Superintendent Billy Coleman.

Coleman organized and spoke at a Christian rally Aug. 10 before the event, quoting the bible’s admonition to “pray without ceasing.” The outrageous “caravan” involved prayerful crowds visiting some 29 public schools .

Bentley said: "I personally believe that one of the problems we have in this country is taking God out of, not only our lives, but out of government.”

One of the biggest problems we have in this country is pandering public officials who misuse their civil authority to push their personal religious views on the rest of us. Government shouldn’t have a prayer.

Our message to pious politicians remains: Get off your knees and get to work.

  • GREGORY F. ZOELLER Attorney General State of Indiana
  • GREG ABBOTT Attorney General State of Texas
  • LUTHER STRANGE Attorney General State of Alabama
  • MICHAEL C. GERAGHTY Attorney General State of Alaska
  • DUSTIN MCDANIEL Attorney General State of Arkansas
  • JOHN W. SUTHERS Attorney General State of Colorado
  • PAMELA JO BONDI Attorney General State of Florida
  • SAMUEL S. OLENS Attorney General State of Georgia
  • LAWRENCE G. WASDEN Attorney General State of Idaho
  • DEREK SCHMIDT Attorney General State of Kansas
  • JACK CONWAY Attorney General State of Kentucky
  • JAMES D. “BUDDY” CALDWELL Attorney General State of Louisiana
  • BILL SCHUETTE Attorney General State of Michigan
  • JIM HOOD Attorney General State of Mississippi
  • TIMOTHY C. FOX Attorney General State of Montana
  • JON BRUNING Attorney General State of Nebraska
  • MICHAEL DEWINE Attorney General State of Ohio
  • E. SCOTT PRUITT Attorney General State of Oklahoma
  • MARTY J. JACKLEY Attorney General State of South Dakota
  • ROBERT E. COOPER JR. Attorney General State of Tennessee
  • JOHN E. SWALLOW Attorney General State of Utah
  • KENNETH T. CUCCINELLI, II Attorney General State of Virginia
  • PATRICK MORRISEY Attorney General State of West Virginia

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

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FFRF is a member of Atheist Alliance International.