RAGAN v. RAGAN was a 1958 Missouri appellate court
decision. Famous WatchTower Society attorney, and former
WatchTower Vice-President, Hayden C. Covington
represented Agnes Vernie Ragan in this appeal, which
Covington lost. With regard to Covington's representation
on appeal, the very last paragraph in this lengthy appellate
opinion is a nice place to start this summary:

"Since plaintiff properly raised no constitutional question in
the trial court and properly presented no such question in
this court, we have neither reason nor excuse to accept the
invitation of plaintiff's counsel to browse through the
judicial pastures of other jurisdictions from California to
New Hampshire for examination of cases involving the
[Jehovah's] Witnesses and their doctrines. Nevertheless,
with freedom of religion so basic to our way of life and so
cherished by all free people, we would deem it a duty and
count it a privilege to deal with plaintiff's purported point in
the exercise of our discretionary power to consider 'plain
errors affecting substantial rights' under Supreme Court
Rule 3.27, if plaintiff's constitutional guaranties of freedom
of religion had been denied by the judgment under review.
However, we can discover no basis for plaintiff's charge
that the decree nisi was based upon her religious beliefs
and practices.  On the contrary, the record shows that
every objection of plaintiff's counsel to inquiries concerning
those matters was sustained by the trial judge, who in
some instances pointedly commented that such inquiries
were not material or relevant. There was ample evidence to
justify and support the award of custody of the two children
to defendant, wholly disregarding plaintiff's religious beliefs
and practices, and certainly our affirmation of the decree
nisi, upon review de novo, is in no wise and to no extent
predicated upon or influenced by any religious
consideration. The simple truth is that there has been and is
no constitutional question in this case.

Elmer Lee Ragan and Agnes Vernie Ragan were married in
1931. In addition to an 8 year old daughter and a 5 year old
son, the Ragans also had two sons who were adults by the
year 1957. The Ragan family lived in Fordland, Missouri,
where they operated a grocery and farm supply business
out of the same building in which they lived.

In October 1955, Agnes Vernie Ragan joined the Jehovah's
Witnesses. In May 1956, she left her husband and children,
and thereafter remained separate and apart from them until
October 1956, when the family was briefly reunited.  During
this period of separation, Agnes Ragan engaged in the
Jehovah's Witnesses "missionary work" of "placing
literature".  She also found time to pursue two lawsuits
seeking financial support from her husband.

When the second such lawsuit came on for trial in October
1956, the circuit judge, distressed by the tragedy unfolding
before him, patiently talked with the parties in his
chambers, persuasively urged them to reunite "for the sake
of the children," and hopefully effected what we shall refer
to as a reconciliation. At that time, the parties entered into
an informal "agreement" that (as paraphrased by Agnes
Ragan in its simplest terms): "I was to take care of the
home and the children, and he (Elmer Ragan) was to take
care of the business." According to Agnes Ragan, the
specific provision that (as she put it) "I was to have no part
in the business" was prompted by her complaint about
working long hours in the store.

However, Elmer Ragan said that he insisted upon this
provision because of Agnes Ragan's secret and
unauthorized abstractions of cash from the store: "I couldn't
trust her in the store no more."  Per the "agreement",
Agnes Ragan was to attend two meetings of the Jehovah's
Witnesses each week, a one-hour meeting for "Bible study"
each Tuesday evening at a farm home two miles from
Fordland, and a two-hour meeting each Sunday evening at
Kingdom Hall in Springfield, but was not to participate
otherwise in the Jehovah's Witnesses' "activities," which
Elmer Ragan charged had caused Agnes Ragan to neglect
and abandon both her husband and their children.

This "reconciliation" was short-lived.  Within 2-3 weeks,
tempers flared and trouble erupted again, by reason of
Agnes Ragan's alleged failure to come home immediately
after the meetings ended.  Instead, she allegedly was not
coming home until 11:00 o'clock or later on several nights.
Additionally, Elmer Ragan alleged that during the period
from the reconciliation in October to the final separation on
January 20, 1957, Agnes Ragan's mind was so occupied and
her time was so consumed with the reading of WatchTower
literature and activities that she failed to dress and feed the
children properly, frequently left them "just running wild
around the store" - "just doing whatever they wanted to
do," and was so unconcerned about them that she "many a
time" answered his inquiries about the children with "I don't
know - go see about them"; that she would not engage in
without bringing up the Jehovah's Witnesses and
attempting to answer every question "with scripture".  
Further, Agnes Ragan spoke disparagingly of "anyone by
the name of Ragan" in general and of her husband in
particular, because, not being Jehovah's Witnesses, they
were "no ways near the same type and kind of people" but
were "an altogether different class or breed"; that she told
the children that, "if they listened to me (their father), it was
wrong and lie"; and that, in short, she was "very cold and
indifferent" - "a long ways from a wife" to defendant and
not "motherly with the children."

On an evening in November, 1956, Elmer Ragan waited up
until 10:30P.M. for Agnes to return from her meeting, "went
on to bed," heard no knock or telephone call, and did not
see Agnes until she returned home the following morning,
when Agnes curtly remarked:  "I would have been at home
if you would have let me in".  Agnes gave no explanation of
where she had spent the night.  During the trial, Agnes
testified that she had "returned a little after ten," that there
had been no response to her knocks on the locked door or
to her call from the nearby telephone exchange, and that
accordingly she had sought lodging for the night with
neighbors of the same religious faith.

The final separation followed an altercation on the night of
Sunday, January 20, 1957, after plaintiff had returned from
Springfield "around 10:30 or a little after." According to
Elmer Ragan, he was upstairs putting the two minor
children to bed, when Agnes knocked on the downstairs
door. Probably taking his good time, by the time he went
downstairs to let Agnes in, she was beating and kicking the
door. After that point, both parties gave widely different
versions of the multiple physical attacks both probably
made on each other. Interestingly, the then 18 year old son
testified in Elmer's favor. At any rate, Agnes left the marital
home permanently that night.

At trial, Elmer Ragan, and others testified that Agnes Ragan
had a bad temper. The then 19 year old son testified that his
mother "was always abusive" toward his father and "was
always in a mad state of condition."  Two neighbor women
related separate conversations with Agnes in which Agnes
had admitted that "when she (Agnes) got mad there wasn't
nothing she wouldn't say or do." According to Elmer, Agnes
"would hardly ever just talk" to the children - "she would
slap them, kick them first, and then tell them what she
wanted." Both Elmer and son Don described an illustrative
incident involving Robert Keith, the five-year old child.  
"Little Bobby set a water pitcher at the table, and didn't set
it on there good, and it fell off, and she just screamed and
said, 'you little devil,' and kicked him and cried and so forth
for about an hour or more and slapped him a time or two
because the kid made a mistake." In describing his
mother's reaction to the broken pitcher, Don said that she
"had a sort of a screaming fit, and kicked him (Bobby), and
went into a mad rage."  An employee who worked at the
Ragan store, testified that he had seen plaintiff "kick the
children in the stomach, in the back" - "almost anyplace, it
didn't make much difference, I don't think."
Three neighbor women staunchly supported Elmer Ragan's
assertion that Agnes had neglected the children. Two of
these neighbors had seen the young Ragan children
playing on a nearby railroad right of way several times and
had sent them home, and the third neighbor recounted an
incident in which she "went and got Bobby (5 years old at
time of trial) off the highway and a big truck just barely
missed him." All of this occurred while Agnes was at home.
Nine witnesses for Elmer testified that the children had
better care while Agnes was gone from May to October
1956, and after the final separation in January 1957, than
while she was at home. Agnes also had six "witnesses"
testify on her behalf, but as the trial judge noted, "not a
single witness testified on her behalf on the all-important
issue as to her care of the children."

More interesting was the testimony of three other local
residents who all knew Elmer and Agnes.  One man
testified that he had seen Agnes and an unidentified
"somebody" drinking beer at a Springfield bar.  A woman
testified that was returning from church between 10:00 and
10:30 P. M. on a Sunday night during December, 1956, when
she came upon a parked, unlighted automobile stopped in
the middle of a lonely road. Fearful that she could not pass
this parked automobile, she "got out of my car and walked
to the window" of the parked automobile for the purpose of
asking the driver to move. She smelled "liquor or beer,"
and saw Agnes and an unidentified man in the parked
automobile, spoke to Agnes by name, and received an
answering "hello."  Another local man testified that "around
three or four weeks" prior to the trial on June 3, 1957, he
was driving over a dirt road near Springfield, between 11:30
P.M. and midnight, when the headlights on his
slowly-moving automobile shone on a parked, unlighted
automobile, facing toward him. "I seen Agnes in it, and I
thought Elmer might have been there too, so I stopped and
went up to the car, and I seen it wasn't Elmer, and just
spoke to Agnes, and just turned around and walked back to
my car, and took off."

The appellate judges who heard this case could barely
contain their despise for the LIES of WatchTower Attorney
and Vice-President Hayden Covington.  Note this paragraph
from the appellate opinion:

"The tenor of plaintiff's argument on appeal is exemplified
by these bold, sweeping affirmations in the opening

'There is not the slightest suggestion that [Agnes Ragan]
was guilty of any immorality. The record nowhere even
faintly suggests that she did not properly care for her
children. The evidence shows that she was diligent in
providing them with religious guidance. Nowhere can it be
found in the record that she neglected her children.'

On this false premise (asserted in the teeth of a record
fairly bristling with testimony to the contrary), plaintiff
contends that, while 'both parties were qualified' to have
custody of the children, 'lack of proof of disqualification
made mandatory the award to the mother.'  But, sound and
fury are sorry substitutes for fact and evidence, and
plaintiff's counsel cannot, by his own bootstraps, lift himself
and his client above the transcript here presented.
Although our courts have said many times that, "all other
things being equal," custody of a child of tender years
should be awarded to the mother ... , the paramount and
controlling consideration in every child custody case, to
which all other principles and presumptions must yield, is
the welfare of the child.

"In the homely language of the old adage, "the proof of the
pudding is in the eating"; ... And, upon our independent and
painstaking review of the entire record in the instant case ...
with primary concern for the welfare of the children
involved ..., we are convinced beyond peradventure of
doubt that the judgment of the trial court, awarding custody
of the two children to [Elmer Ragan], was justified and
proper, finds ample support in the evidence, and should not
be disturbed."
Jehovah's Witnesses Lose in Court-Often....