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Carol Anne Costa: Let Baby Messiah Keep His Name

Thursday, August 15, 2013


What's in a name? None of your business unless you're the child's parent, believes Carol Anne Costa.

A Tennessee Magistrate made a ruling in an infant’s name mediation case that literally when reported by the Today Show, left I and my family gathered around the TV breathless. The now 7-month-old child is the son of Jaleesa Martin and Jawaan McCullough, an unmarried Tennessee couple. The young parents could not agree on a last name for the baby, and that is what brought them to the courtroom of Child Support Magistrate, Lu Ann Ballew. In her ruling she not only changed the child’s last name to McCullough but proceeded to sua sponte change the child’s first name to Martin. She ruled his name to be, forthwith, Martin DeShawn McCullough, declaring it contains elements of both parents’ names. The Magistrate further clarified that, "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.” Where did she just go from the bench? Oh yes, she just collided with the First Amendment in a head-on crash.

A Teachable Moment

This ruling and the Magistrate’s rationalization is so outrageous and overreaching it provides a teachable moment to reveal very clearly, what the Establishment Clause and judicial activism look like. I almost feel a disclaimer should be given before you watch Ballew’s account of her own decision; something like, “Kids please don’t ever do this, as it is dangerous to your constitution.” At first blush, the case of “Messiah” McCullough seems to be a case merely revolving around the first amendment Establishment Clause, but as I process this reporting, it is so much more. It speaks to judicial activism, ignorance of the law and pure government overreach.

What does the Establishment clause say? Simply, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” America is a country filled with multitudes of religious people, beliefs, practices and institutions. Our history is littered with first amendment challenges. Rhode Island is famous for its establishment challenges and the lines get drawn quickly and with much furor. Let’s face it, we are old pros given the well-documented cases going back to Lynch vs. Donnelly–or as we know it, the Pawtucket Nativity Case–and right up through our most recent tug of war, Alquist vs. Cranston, the school prayer case.

As the challenges come and the law evolves there have been boisterous and rough public debates about separation of church and state. But, this Tennessee case is a bridge too far. There is no room or need for debate. While I am certain the parents will prevail on appeal, the fact that a Magistrate, a representative of the government, could not only make this decision but move to justify by invoking religion it is nothing short of shocking. If her own words represent a pervasive default to her own religious beliefs, she needs to turn in her robe ASAP!

As for Messiah

The adorable child at the center of this debacle bears a name which has grown significantly in the popularity ratings as calculated by the Name Voyager on Babynamewizard.com. Messiah stands at a ranking of 387th while Jesus is ranked in at 92nd. Moses has fallen to 592nd, and Luke comes in at a respectable 39th spot. As to not be sexist, Mary has dropped from the number 1 position in popularity in to the 112th spot. Names are important and families take great pains to come up with just the right one, and for Jaleesa and Jawaan, Messiah is it. To you Magistrate Ballew, “Keep your government hands off the baby’s name!” Let Messiah be Messiah and for the love of God, before you retake the bench…go read the Constitution!


Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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