Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk are trying to name their 22-month-old child Allah, but the Georgia Department of Public Health refuses to issue a birth certificate for the toddler.
The couple, represented by the ACLU of Georgia, has filed a lawsuit against Donna L. Moore, the state registrar and director of the Office of Vital Records, and Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health.
"We have to make sure that the state isn’t overstepping their boundaries," Walk told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It is just plainly unfair and a violation of our rights."
According to state officials, the baby girl's proposed name, ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah, should have a last name that matches one of the parents -- Handy or Walk -- or some type of a combination of the two.
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Lawyers for the Department of Public Health say that the state rule "requires that a baby’s surname be either that of the father of the mother for purposes of the initial birth record."
According to Sidney Barrett, a lawyer for the state, after the birth record is created with one of the acceptable last names, the last name may be changed by going to court, although name changes are not always guaranteed.
ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young said the state has violated the First and 14th Amendments. Handy and Walk have a 3-year-old son who was named Masterful Allah without any objection from the state.
Michael Baumrind, another lawyer who represents Handy and Walk, said: "There are numbers of parents who have selected a name for their children. The state has no business determining if a name is satisfactory. The parents get to decide the name of the child. Not the state. It is an easy case."
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According to the ACLU of Georgia's website, the state's refusal to allow the baby's name has repercussions in other areas, including medical coverage and food stamps via the federal government's SNAP program:
[The state's] refusal to issue the birth certificate as requested has prevented Elizabeth and Bilal from obtaining a Social Security number for their daughter, prevented them from obtaining medical coverage under Medicaid, and prevented them from obtaining food stamps through the SNAP program.
Without a birth certificate, Elizabeth and Bilal will be unable to enroll their daughter in public school, and they fear that their daughter’s identity as a U.S. citizen will be questioned.
Carlton F.W. Larson, a law professor at the University of California at Davis, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the state is stepping on the couple's rights:
Naming your child is an expressive action. And the idea that you get to name your child, and not the state, is a fundamental right. The state would need to have a compelling reason for rejecting a name, and I don’t see it. I would hope that (Handy and Walk) would win this case.
Handy and Walk said they chose Allah because it is "noble," not because of religion; Allah is the name of God in Arabic.
"Simply put, we have a personal understanding that we exercise in regards to the names," Walk stated. "It is nothing that we want to go into detail about, because it is not important. What is important is the language of the statute and our rights as parents."
Handy, who is currently six months pregnant, added: "We don’t want to go through that process again. We are still in the process of coming up with a name, and we don’t even know if it will be a girl or a boy. But the child will definitely have a noble title. Something to live up to."