By Bernie Woodall
(Reuters) – Georgia officials have granted a couple’s request to issue a birth certificate giving their toddler daughter the surname “Allah” after earlier refusing to do so because neither parent has that name, civil liberties advocates said on Thursday.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought a lawsuit, called the decision a victory for free expression, but a top official with the largest U.S. Muslim advocacy group criticized the choice to use the Arabic word for “God” as culturally insensitive.
ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah, who will soon turn 2, was born in Atlanta to parents Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk, who waited about a year before seeking a birth certificate for the child.
While they had no difficulties obtaining birth certificates for their older children, ages 3 and 17, who also have the surname “Allah,” a clerk for the Georgia Department of Health blocked the request for the youngest child.
Last month, the ACLU filed suit in state court against the leaders of the state department of health and the state office of vital records to compel them to allow the surname chosen by the parents, said Sean J. Young, legal director for the ACLU of Georgia.
Georgia law requires that clerks allow any name chosen by the parents as long as it is not provocative or offensive, Young said in a phone interview. The department relented on Friday, and the ACLU dropped the suit.
Nihad Awad, national director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that while many people have names that are derivations of Allah, such as Abdullah, which means “servant of God,” using “Allah” as a stand-alone surname was not culturally acceptable.
“You would never use just Allah. That would be considered very inappropriate,” Awad said in a phone interview.
Young said he did not know if the couple were Muslim but that he considered the question legally irrelevant.
Handy and Walk, who were not available for comment, live together in Atlanta and are expecting a fourth child, Young said.
“This is an important vindication of parental rights,” Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a statement. “No one wants to live in a world where the government can dictate what you can and cannot name your child.”
A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Health declined to comment on the matter.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)