The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

What’s in a Name?

January 18, 2006 | 10 Comments

With all the people in the world named “Jesus” at birth, you wouldn’t think it would be such a big deal for someone later in life to seek to legally change his name to the full name of that alleged deity. After all, girls named “Mary” have pretty much accomplished that — like Cher, Charro and Beyonce, the Mother of God doesn’t have a last name. And in any event, the last name “Christ” isn’t so uncommon. As I noted here, a New York recently did grant a man’s petition to change his name to Jesus Christ. The law certainly doesn’t care; unless you’re trying to evade creditors, what you call yourself is your own business. Who would object?

Blogger Tim Murphy, for one. He got quite upset when he read that a Mr. Peter Robert Phillips wanted to officially be known Jesus Christ. No matter that Mr. Phillips already owned property and had a US Passport, Social Security card, District of Columbia drivers license issued under that name, and just wanted his West Virginia drivers license to match. Murphy thought the guy should be legally barred from calling himself JC — because he “examined both Protestant and Catholic bibles and found they [did] not support [Phillips’] claim that they allow for use of the name Jesus Christ.” He also discovered that paragraph 2143 of Catholic catechism states that “The gift of a name belongs to the order of trust and intimacy” and “The Lord’s name is Holy” and concludes that “[f]or this reason man must not abuse it.”

Now, Phillips himself relied on Mark 9:38:42, which talks about people performing miracles in Christ’s name. Perhaps it’s a stretch, but that’s irrelevant — a person’s legal right to do anything can’t rest upon Biblical interpretation or Catholic dogma. Apparently realizing this, Murphy turned to Constitutional interpretation. He concluded, interestingly, that going by Christ’s name falls under the “fighting words” exception to free speech.

Murphy’s line of reasoning is fascinating. He relies on the celebrated case of Cohen v California, in which the Supreme Court upheld a man’s right to wear a jacket bearing the words “fuck the draft” in a courthouse full of women and children. How does that help Murphy’s argument, you ask? Well, the court did discuss the “fighting words” exception, noting that it applies to “personally abusive epithets which, when addressed to the ordinary citizen, are, as a matter of common knowledge, likely to provoke violent reaction.” So Murphy argues that saying “Jesus” is worse than saying “fuck”:

[The law] could clearly prevent the use of obscenities such as cunt, motherfucker, etc. or derogatory terms like nigger, kike or wasp to be used as persons’ names . . . [so certainly it could] prevent the name revered by a third of the world’s population to satisfied the vanity of an individual [like Phillips].

What a potty mouth! For a Catholic blogger, anyway. If you’re having trouble following why fuck is okay and Jesus, cunt and wasp are not, you’ll be equally puzzled by his discussion of how the state’s right to keep certain words off license plates should apply to the license you tuck away in your wallet. But what’s really bothering Murphy becomes apparent later in the post:

[There are] various situations where people have gone to lengths to avoid offending the public . . . A recent newspaper story stated: “In April students at the all women Smith College in North Hampton, Massachusetts, voted to replace all the female pronouns in the student constitution with gender neutral pronouns. Although men are not admitted to Smith, many students apparently believe that using “she” and “her” is inappropriate for students who are admitted as females, but later identified themselves as transgender. [I also note] that recently, while at a training program . . . the media reported that sheets were draped over several paintings in the hotel because in the painting was depicted a confederate battle flag in order to avoid offending people by showing the image of the confederate flag.

Murphy also cites to an anonymous internet which reported that “70 faculty members at Georgetown sent letters of protest in regards to Cardinal Francis Arinze’s commencement speech, in which he remarked that the family is ‘mocked by homosexuality.'”

In other words, because private citizens engage in self-censorship or criticize people that Murphy likes, the law should crack down speech that Murphy doesn’t like.

Which is precisely what the law did in the case of Mr. Peter Robert Phillips. You see, Tim Murphy isn’t really a blogger. He’s a Senior Judge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and all of the language quoted above is take verbatim from his 2003 Opinion and Order denying Phillips’ name change application.

Murphy’s decision was, of course, reversed last May, with the matter for some reason remanded for a hearing. The appellate decision (reproduced here) is outrageous in its own way, failing to chastise the Murphy in the least for his blatant trampling of a crackpot’s clear legal rights.


10 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. franky
    January 18th, 2006 @ 2:24 pm

    holy crap. that was from a legal opinion?

  2. benjamin
    January 18th, 2006 @ 2:47 pm

    So there is some truth to the claim that some judges are acting like activists. ie. Murphy.

  3. Valdyr
    January 18th, 2006 @ 2:47 pm

    One of the biggest problems that America faces right now is that despite all the lip-service we give to freedom, most of us don’t REALLY care about it. Or the Constitution. We’d rather be allowed to trample on other people’s rights when they make us uncomfortable.

  4. Choobus
    January 18th, 2006 @ 2:55 pm

    If they ban the use of cunt, motherfucker and so on I will have no way of communicating with theists other than indecent exposure, which I prefer to save for the summer.

  5. godsarefake
    January 18th, 2006 @ 3:54 pm

    I think it is different to say one doesn’t care about something than to say someone is currently unconcerned because things are generally, from a personal perspective, still quite tollerable. I wouldn’t say Americans don’t care about freedom, I would say most don’t feel their own freedoms are currently being violated, so they aren’t motivated to fight for the rights of others. The problem isn’t becasue we don’t care; the problem is that we are generally too self-absorbed, and, thus, only motivated into stopping a problem when, so to speak, the burning cross is planted in front of our own house.

  6. gravitybear
    January 19th, 2006 @ 8:57 am

    Shorter godsarefake: It isn’t that Americans don’t care about freedom, they just don’t care about OTHER PEOPLE’S freedom.

    And that’s the problem.

  7. Andrea
    January 19th, 2006 @ 10:36 am

    While it’s true that most Americans only care about freedom when their own is being ripped away, that “self-absorption” is not exactly the worst thing ever. We’re not required to do things for others on a grand scale. If individuals could just go through life without annoying people on purpose the world would be a much better place.

    As for judges… well that’s a different story. While it’s unrealistic for Americans, as a group, to stick up for other people’s freedoms just because “it’s the right thing to do,” this judge’s job is exactly that. Obviously RA knows why the judge doesn’t want anyone to be called Jesus Christ, no one wants his religion mocked. But just because this guy’s a judge doesn’t mean he can push people around. Glad he got caught.

  8. The No God Boy
    January 19th, 2006 @ 10:52 am

    I thin Jesus Christ IS a swear word and should be banned. I swear with it all the time, along with the name of his single-parent father.

  9. severalspecies
    January 19th, 2006 @ 11:10 am

    This is from a Judge???!!! Does this mean that he, too, believes that Jesus’ father’s full name was Joseph Christ?…

    …Jesus Christ!!!!

  10. jahrta
    January 19th, 2006 @ 4:52 pm

    I think the judge should be forced to change his name to Nixzmary Brown

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