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Tennessee judge who ordered name change for baby Messiah fired

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[February 05, 2014]  By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters)  A Tennessee judge who ordered a baby's name changed from Messiah to Martin, saying the former was reserved for Jesus Christ, has been fired, court officials said on Tuesday.

Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew of Cocke County in eastern Tennessee last August ordered a boy's first name changed over the objections of his parents when they appeared before her seeking to settle other issues.

O. Duane Slone, presiding judge of the state's fourth judicial district, terminated Ballew's appointment, effective last Friday, according to court documents.

Slone did not give a reason in his order, but Ballew had previously been cited by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct for an inappropriate religious bias. A hearing is scheduled for March 3.

Ballew could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.


The board's chair, Judge Chris Craft of Shelby County, said in a statement that the board still has jurisdiction over Ballew, even though she is no longer on the bench.

Craft wrote that it is the duty of the board to inquire into the "commission of any act calculated to reflect unfavorably upon the judiciary of the state."

Both the mother, Jaleesa Martin, and the father, Jawaan McCullough, were insisting on their respective surnames for baby Messiah. Ballew instead threw out the child's birth name and ordered the boy renamed Martin DeShawn McCullough.

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"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," the magistrate told Tennessee television station WBIR at the time.

The parents appealed, and another judge held that Ballew's ruling was unconstitutional.

Messiah was the 387th most popular name for boys born in the United States in 2012, based on applications for Social Security cards filed with the U.S. Social Security Administration.

In all, there were 762 applications for boys named Messiah in 2012, more than double the 368 applications made in 2011, the Social Security Administration said.

(Reporting by Tim Ghianni; editing by Mary Wisniewski, Bernard Orr)

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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