What In the Name of God...? An Interview with Jesus' Lawyer

I recently tried to find Jesus Christ, but I couldn't get past his attorney.

Mr. Christ, 53, lives in Washington. Though he was born Peter R. Phillips, he began calling himself Jesus Christ about 15 years ago -- as a sign, he contends, of his intense devotion to his religion. Many local governments recognize common-law name changes. Indeed, his U.S. passport, Social Security card and D.C. driver's license all read "Jesus Christ."

Everything was going peacefully for Jesus until not long ago, when he tried to buy some property in West Virginia. The state authorities wouldn't give him a deed unless they had an official record of a name change. So he applied for one in the D.C. courts. A judge turned him down on the grounds that the name would be offensive to many people, and possibly even incite violence.

That's when Jesus Christ retained a lawyer, A.P. Pishevar of Rockville. Jesus found Pishevar through the recommendation of another lawyer, Carl Fogel. Saying his client is a shy man who seeks no publicity, Pishevar declined to make Christ available to me, but offered his personal witness.

Me: So, let me understand this. Jesus Christ, acting on the advice of a Jew, hired a Muslim to represent him?

Pishevar: Yes.

Me: Wow.

Pishevar: I'm not sure what that means, but I think it's a positive thing.

Me: Simply put, you are trying to get the District of Columbia to accept "Jesus Christ"?

Pishevar: Right.

Me: You filed an appeal of the lower court ruling and won. The appeals court has now directed the lower court to reconsider the case, right?

Pishevar: Right.

Me: So your client went to the court once, and was refused, and now he is coming back to the court. That would be . . .

Pishevar:

Me: You have to work with me here. Coming back, to the court, again, one more time. That would be . . .

Pishevar: A second coming. Yes.

Me: Is Mr. Christ, by any chance, a . . . carpenter?

Pishevar: He is a bus driver. He drives a bus for the developmentally disabled.

Me: He delivers people!

Pishevar: Right!

Me: Okay, then. Now, I am not a Christian, but I can imagine that some Christians might consider Mr. Christ's chosen name to be a sacrilege -- taking the name of the Lord in vain, perhaps. No?

Pishevar: The point is, it is not for the court to interpret Scripture. If someone has a violent reaction to something as

innocent as one person's expression of his religious belief, that would be illegal. The courts should not be protecting that illegal act, as opposed to protecting a person's Constitutional right to free speech and the expression of his religious beliefs.

Me: You are hoping the courts will

accept that argument as Gospel?

Pishevar: Yes.

Me: Playing devil's advocate here, what if someone wanted to change his name to, say, Adolf Hitler?

Pishevar: That might be a personal expression to be protected by the Constitution, too, though I probably would not take that case. That has less redeeming value.

Me: Redeeming value!

Pishevar: Yes.

Me: You're working with me!

Pishevar: I am.

Me: According to the court records, Mr. Christ lives in my neighborhood. I went to the address, but the building was completely gutted, undergoing restoration.

Pishevar: That's correct.

Me: It is being resurrected.

Pishevar: Okay.

Me: I talked to one of the construction guys. My Spanish is a little rusty. He either said that the man who lived there was "gone" or "deceased." Your client has not died, right? Jesus lives?

Pishevar: Jesus lives. He is staying at a place temporarily in Maryland.

Me: Mary-land!

Pishevar:

Me: Okay, that was a stretch. I want to wish you and Mr. Christ the best of luck here. Do you think he has a prayer?

Pishevar: Definitely.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.

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