Can a Judge Force Parents to Change a Baby’s Name?

They didn’t name their son Messiah because it means God, and they didn’t think a judge could make them change their baby’s name because of her religious beliefs. Did she violate their First Amendment rights? You be the judge.

By Caitlin O'Connell
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine January 2014

Kid with cross on his head

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The Verdict:

In an appeal hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court in September, Chancellor Telford Forgety overturned Judge Ballew’s controversial order, ruling that the magistrate had acted unconstitutionally by imposing her personal religious beliefs on Martin and McCullough.

Chancellor Forgety found that Judge Ballew’s decision violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which forbids any legal action that favors a particular religion. Additionally, he declared, there is no law that allows a court official to change a child’s first name if the parents are in agreement with each other about it.

The chancellor ordered that the baby’s name be changed back to 
Messiah. (And in accordance with Tennessee law, Messiah will retain his father’s last name, McCullough.)

Was justice served? Was Judge Ballew correct in ruling that McCullough’s and Martin’s son could not be named Messiah? Weigh in below.

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