Saturday, October 26, 2013
The Tennessee judge who independently changed a baby’s name from Messiah to Martin has been found to have violated Tennessee’s Judicial Code of Conduct. The judge ordered the name changed despite protests from both parents. According to the judge, “Messiah” can only be applied to the one who “earned” it, “and that one person is Jesus Christ.”
Rule 2.3(B) of the Judicial Code of Conduct states:
A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, or engage in harassment, including but not limited to bias, prejudice, or harassment based upon…religion[.]
The judge’s action clearly violates the requirement of Rule 2.3. By requiring the name-change, the judge’s judicial opinion reflected her religious convictions, and her ordered required the parents’ compliance at the expense of their own beliefs.
Tthe Tennessee Constitution states "that no human authority, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience[.]" Art. 1, Sec. 3. Also, at a minimum, the Establishment Clause of First Amendment prevents coercive state action that compels adherence to a particular religious doctrine. The state has no authority to require religious observance, and requiring the baby’s parents to change their child’s name to meet the judge’s personal religious beliefs clearly does just that.
I’m not particularly familiar with available punishments for judicial misconduct, but this seems like a particularly egregious example that requires more than a meager scolding. To me, the judge's order calls her judgment into question. How can society expect fair and impartial rulings after such an obvious example of judicial disregard for the Tennessee Code of Conduct, the Tennessee Constitution, and the U.S. Constitution?
Sanctions against the judge are pending.
Notably, according to Reuters:
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.