ACLU of Georgia Files Suit Against State Health Department for Refusing to Issue Birth Certificate with Parents’ Chosen Name

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
March 23, 2017 10:30 am

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ATLANTA – The ACLU of Georgia today filed suit against two officials at the Georgia Department of Public Health after the department refused to issue a Georgia couple a birth certificate with the last name they had chosen for their daughter.

“Government has no business telling parents what they can and cannot name their children,” said ACLU of Georgia Executive Director, Andrea Young. “Elizabeth and Bilal jumped through every bureaucratic hoop that’s required to obtain a birth certificate for their daughter, but officials at the Department of Public Health refused to record the birth certificate with the name of their choice. The department’s actions interfere with the couple’s right to raise their child and are a clear violation of the right to freedom of speech and the right to equal protection under the law. The department has also caused real harm, preventing this couple and their child from receiving the benefits they need and deserve.”

ACLU of Georgia, along with cooperating counsel Emmet Bondurant and Michael Baumrind of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore LLP, filed a Writ of Mandamus today on behalf of Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk and against Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, in her capacity as Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, and Ms. Donna L. Moore, in her capacity as the State Registrar and Director of the State Office of Vital Records, asking the court to compel these government officials to comply with their mandatory legal duties under O.C.G.A. § 31-10-9(e)(5) to issue a birth certificate to Elizabeth and Bilal’s infant daughter with the surname designated by Elizabeth and Bilal.

In April of 2016, Elizabeth and Bilal executed an Acknowledgment of Paternity as required by the State and designated the name of their daughter, ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah, to be recorded on her birth certificate. Defendants’ 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.

The civil liberties issues implicated in this litigation are: free speech, equal protection, and the right to raise one’s child.

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