Guest column: Christmas Spirit

John Ragan

John Ragan

On Christmas Day a century ago, at several locations along the Western Front of the World War I conflict, soldiers from both sides of the Great War emerged from trenches to meet in peace and camaraderie in no-man’s-land: the war-torn spaces between the opposing trenches. In the days leading up to Christmas, troops on both sides had sometimes joined in singing Christmas carols, the melodies rising to mix in the frigid air over the battlefield.

When Christmas Day dawned, instead of exchanging artillery barrages and bayonet charges, they traded handshakes, gifts, and holiday wishes. One location even enjoyed a friendly game of soccer.

Briefly, on a European battlefield where death and bitterness had reigned supreme, there was peace on earth and good will toward men. Though it was for only a day—a Christmas Day—hatred gave way to recognition of humanity’s brotherhood. [Read more…]

Guest column: ‘A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer’

John Ragan

John D. Ragan

In October of 1789, George Washington issued a proclamation “recommending” to the people of the United States a day of “Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer.” He urged Americans to remember “with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” He published this proclamation, less than a month after the Constitution was signed, at the request of Congress.

Seventy-four years later, in the midst of a bloody and bitter civil war, a different president issued another Thanksgiving Day proclamation. In his proclamation, Lincoln called for “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” He urged Americans to acknowledge “the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

School children of my generation were assigned to read and study such Thanksgiving proclamations from our presidents. But today, it seems school children are seldom required to become familiar with such historic proclamations. Why is this? Are our schools, and popular culture in our nation, conspiring to obscure the meaning of Thanksgiving? [Read more…]

Guest column: Burying mistakes

John Ragan

John Ragan

Our founders boldly asserted in the Declaration of Independence that our nation should exist because the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” entitle it to exist. They further held the God who authored these natural laws endowed everyone with certain, self-evident rights.

By these concepts, every individual has the same God-given equality before the law. There can be none with special, legal “privileges” such as royalty or aristocracy. Likewise, there can be no serfs inherently lacking certain rights.

An even more radical concept in that document is that government exists to protect these God-given rights. Furthermore, our nation’s founding document maintains that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, thus are accountable to them.

In other words, our founders insisted that government must answer to its citizens, not the other way around. However, events recently in the popular press have called this concept into question. [Read more…]

Guest column: Memorial Day thoughts

John Ragan

John Ragan

The Memorial Day holiday approaches this year as it has every year since the end of the Civil War. In our media, the tourist industry eagerly touts it as the “unofficial beginning of summer.”

Indeed, Tennessee’s weather usually makes the long-planned family picnics and outings to resorts balmy, if not hot. Warm weather makes a great reason to visit the lake, take in a ball game, or some other favorite relaxation. Alternatively, it is good excuse to invite family and friends over for backyard barbecue parties or some other festivity.

This spot on the calendar is also convenient to celebrate high school or college graduations. Perhaps, some of us use the holiday as an extra day in vacation plans. All of this has become a happy part of the American culture.

Generally, on Memorial Day, Americans delight in the cultural blessings of “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Unfortunately, in our zeal to enjoy the day, too many of us easily forget the meaning behind the name of the holiday. It has not always been so. [Read more…]

Guest column: Saint Patrick’s day thoughts

John Ragan

John Ragan

About 1,500 years ago, pirates forced a teenage boy from his home in Britain and enslaved him in pagan Ireland. He lived there six years, toiling at the whim of his masters. His name was Patrick.

Patrick’s masters believed they had the right to demand his labor and services whether he agreed or not. He was their slave. But Patrick rebelled against the injustice of bondage, escaping and completing a perilous journey back to his home.

Years later, he answered a call to the clergy and nobly returned to the land of his enslavement—on a mission to spread Christianity. His preaching and life example were so powerful that, by popular approval, he came to be regarded as the patron saint of Ireland. That regard and tradition continue to this day. [Read more…]

Guest column: Christmas transformations

Well before English author Charles Dickens first published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843, the season had been filled with stories of transformation. But Dickens’ story of Christmas redemption surpassed all its predecessors, becoming an instant classic. Ebeneezer Scrooge’s change of heart is one of the most famous in all English literature.

Theodor Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”) penned his own instant classic of this kind: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” In this 1957 children’s book, written in characteristic Dr. Seuss poetic form, The Grinch—a bitter, grouchy creature—is bent on forcing his perspective on the Whos of Whoville. He steals their presents, food, and trimmings, feeling sure this will destroy their annoying Christmas spirit. But as Christmas morning dawns and the Whos sing, hug, join hands, and celebrate as usual, the Grinch has a change of heart! It “grows three sizes,” he becomes 12 times stronger—and he comes sledding down his mountain to return everything to the Whos and join their celebration.

Ever wonder if pre-transformational Mr. Scrooges exist today? Are there modern, unrepentant Grinches who want to steal the joy of Christmas? [Read more…]

Guest column: Thanksgiving for the ‘First Freedom’

John Ragan

John Ragan

The search for religious freedom on American shores began nearly four centuries ago. In 1620, Pilgrims arrived in America seeking to escape religious persecution in England.

The following year, this group celebrated the very first Thanksgiving of English-speaking people on our shores. After a hard winter and loss of a number of settlers, but a bountiful harvest, the Pilgrims held a three-day feast with their indigenous neighbors as guests. Thus began a national tradition.

Our grand, national custom of acknowledging religious freedom and abundance through a national day of gratitude to the Divine Author of Liberty remains enduringly impressive. However, for some, remembering the purpose of that celebration may be a bit more difficult. [Read more…]

Guest column: White crosses, Normandy, and honoring veterans

John Ragan

John Ragan

A few years ago, I traveled to France visiting the American Cemetery in Normandy on a guided tour. Our French guide was an expert on what we were seeing. A native to the region, she was steeped by her family lore in eyewitness accounts to the events of more than a half a century earlier.

That family background had spurred her to become a tour guide just before the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Her excellent knowledge of English and history convinced her employer, despite her youth, to assign her escort duties for American veterans visiting on that momentous occasion.

She spoke in a tone of reverence about the “older gentlemen” she had taken from place to place. Movingly, she recounted how they pointed here or there and commented how different something appeared compared to when they had seen it as young men. [Read more…]

Guest column: Home of the brave

John Ragan

John Ragan

Two hundred and thirty-seven years ago, one of the most influential documents in the history of politics made its official appearance: The Declaration of Independence. Men, who felt the weight of history resting squarely on them, courageously shouldered the burden and fearlessly signed that piece of paper. They did so knowing the penalty for failure was death and hardship for their families.

Fortunately, from that day to this, brave citizens have continued to willingly risk life and limb in service to fellow Americans. Sadly, however, as it was in July of 1776, so, too, it is now. The cost of liberty remains high.

Today, as then, gallant American service personnel continue to lay their lives on the altar of freedom. Others sacrifice precious capabilities that the average citizen takes for granted. These men and women suffer unbelievably painful wounds, lose limbs, even endure paralysis and experience scarring inside and out. The agony of rehabilitation for these injuries cannot be exaggerated. [Read more…]

Guest column: Emory Valley Center moves East Tennesseans ‘upward’

John Ragan

John Ragan

At 13, I cashed my first paycheck. I still keep it in a scrapbook at my house with other special mementos.

After finishing the chores on my family’s farm, my parents let me travel down our country road to a neighbor’s dairy farm. I helped clean the barns and feed the cows. My reward for my efforts was a dollar an hour.

That $10 check, and the hard work that earned it, has always been a great source of pride for me.

The Emory Valley Center in Oak Ridge makes that experience possible for intellectually and physically disabled adults and children in 16 counties, principally Anderson, Knox, Morgan, Roane, Campbell, Scott, Monroe, and Loudon.

In addition to providing physically and intellectually disabled people with a sense of purpose and pride, EVC is one of the best values for Tennesseans. The institution provides employment options to individuals who would, otherwise, find it difficult to support themselves through work.

Although the state pays a portion of the center’s expenses, another source of funding comes from the earnings of the working adults who have benefited from EVC’s services. Tennessee also receives a return investment through the sales taxes that the center’s patrons pay. The Emory Valley Center helps create contributing Tennesseans, who derive the same sense of self-worth from their work that the able-bodied members of our community sometimes take for granted.

In September, I was proud to join the staff of EVC, Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, Congressman Chuck Fleischman, and Tennessee Sen. Randy McNally in celebration. The Appalachian Regional Commission awarded EVC with a much-deserved grant. These funds will jump-start construction on a new facility that will replace EVC’s half-a-century-old center for educational, vocational, and rehabilitation programs for 140 disabled adults and 400 children.

The state is not alone in funding a new EVC facility. Additional private donations have totaled more than $200,000.

According to Dr. Gene Caldwell, co-chair of the Capital Campaign, through public and private funding, EVC has raised two-thirds of the money needed to build. The focus now is on raising the last of the funds needed for funding construction and essential educational and training equipment.

With a new home, EVC can contribute to the economy of the region to an even greater extent than the old facility has previously permitted.

Last session, our legislature heard many proposals to fund public programs. Few of these proposals served as worthy a mission as the Emory Valley Center. I know that EVC serves a vital purpose, and I am committed to helping EVC through my service to the Tennessee House of Representatives.

I challenge the members of our community to learn more about the center, to tell your friends, family and colleagues about its mission, take a tour, and, if you are able, to financially contribute to the Emory Valley Center’s Capital Campaign.
Anyone wishing to donate to the EVC Capital Campaign may do so by mailing a contribution to P.O. Box 5328, Oak Ridge, TN 37831, or by logging on to

For additional questions or to arrange a tour, please contact Robin Biloski at (865) 201-5361. All funds will go directly to the new replacement building and to the programs that help all East Tennesseans move upward.

John Ragan is an Oak Ridge Republican who represents the 33rd District in Anderson County in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Sept. 11 attacks still reverberate

The implications of the attacks on the 11th of September over a decade ago still reverberate throughout our nation. Indeed, the murder of nearly 3,000 American citizens who were simply going about their daily lives has left a scar on our national psyche that will be with us for many decades to come.

Unfortunately, this assault was not the first time in modern history Americans were attacked on their home soil. It was, however, the first major attack motivated by something other than military strategy.

[Read more…]

Guest column: Tennessee taxpayers the ‘real winners’ in last two years

Jobs are, hands down, the most important thing on the minds of Tennesseans as we approach the upcoming election.

We’ve watched the federal government fail time and time again as they have attempted to meddle in the economy. In the Tennessee General Assembly, we understood this would not work. Our approach is a proven path to prosperity.

[Read more…]