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Neal Wooten Headshot

Magistrate's Messiah Complex

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I've always been concerned about judges and magistrates having too much power, making way too many decisions based not on law or precedence, but on their own personal or religious beliefs.

I have read many accounts of such actions over the years, but none as blatantly obvious as the Messiah incident. Remember back in August when a Tennessee judge, Lu Ann Ballew, who is a Child Support Magistrate, took it upon herself to right what she saw as a religious wrong?

The parents of then seven-month-old Messiah were in court to settle once and for all what would be the baby's last name. Magistrate Ballew decided the baby would have his father's last name of McCullough. But she didn't stop there. She concluded that it was her judicial/spiritual duty to give the baby a new first name as well, which she decided would be Martin, the mother's last name.

I can't even imagine how that would feel for a parent to go to court and have the judge decide that you do not have the authority or common sense to name your own child and arbitrarily pick out a new first name for you. And it wasn't even done to try to make things fair for both parents. No, it was done because Magistrate Ballew came to the conclusion it was stepping on the toes of the God.

She said, "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."

She also noted that, "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."

At this point he's had no choice in what his name is? Is she kidding? Do any children have a say as to what their name will be? I can't recall my parents asking me when I was born, or when I was seven-months-old. If they had, I would probably be called Steve McQueen today.

The issue of course is concerning just how much power local judges and magistrates have, and are they allowed to simply make decisions based on their own personal world views. Isn't there something in our constitution about this? Is there really a wall of separation, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, between church and state?

I assumed this magistrate would get away with this malicious act, but I'm glad to say I was wrong. A month later, Chancellor Telford Forgety, Jr. reversed the decision calling it unconstitutional. Now little Messiah DeShawn McCullough can grow up with the name his parents chose for him like the other 762 boys named Messiah for 2012 in the United States.

As for Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew, who claimed that Messiah was only a title and not a proper name, well it looks like she might be losing her title as well. A court panel has cited her for violation of the state judicial code of conduct claiming inappropriate religious bias. Well, thank God... uh, I mean thank the courts.

My advice to Lu Ann would be to not take this lying down. If you lose your job, you can always legally change your first name to "Magistrate." It won't even be the first time you've changed a first name. Besides, I'm betting that you didn't even have a choice in your name when you were a baby. The nerve of your parents.