A Victory for the Baby

Rita Warren is a 68-year-old immigrant who grew up in Mussolini's Italy. But this Christmas, Rita taught her Virginia neighbors an all-American lesson in protecting freedom. For years Mrs. Warren has traveled from Fairfax, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., to set up a nativity scene at the Capitol. But because Mrs. Warren sat by her crèche all day long and then took it home at night, the display was considered a form of free speech, not a public display. But this Christmas, Mrs. Warren took a different tactic. She knew that last June, the Supreme Court had ruled that the Ku Klux Klan had the right to erect a cross in a public park in Columbus, Ohio. Such displays are permissible, the court said, if public property is designated as a forum for public expression. Well, if the Klan had the right to a public display, Mrs. Warren decided, then so did she. And then this elderly, soft-spoken woman got as tough as any ACLU lawyer: She threatened to sue Fairfax if city officials didn't permit her to display her crèche on public property. And on December 7, she won. The city designated an area near city hall for public displays and gave Mrs. Warren permission to set up her crèche there. Mrs. Warren was ecstatic. As she told the Washington Times, "It's a victory for . . . the little baby in the cradle and for all the people of Fairfax City." Well, not all the people. The grinches at the ACLU are muttering and fuming and trying to figure out some way they can get rid of Mrs. Warren's crèche. But if they decide to take Rita Warren on, they'll have quite a fight on their hands. Because this is one woman who takes religious freedom seriously. Although it happened more than 50 years ago, Rita Warren still remembers the day Mussolini's henchmen marched into her junior-high classroom in Italy and stripped the cross off the wall. In its place, they hung pictures of Mussolini and Hitler. Instead of reciting the Lord's Prayer the children were forced to salute the two dictators and sing their praises instead of God's. The memory was burned into Rita's mind, and stayed there long after she immigrated to the U.S. in 1947. It taught her that citizens must fight to protect their religious freedoms. "I am not a religious fanatic," she told the Washington Times. "But maybe if we Italians had put up a fight years ago, we could have avoided that horrible war." Unlike Rita Warren, too many Americans think we can strip the public square of all religious influences and replace them with a benign secularism. But as Mrs. Warren discovered, when you get rid of God, another ideology will almost certainly spring up in His place—one far less benevolent. That's why we ought to thank people like Rita Warren for reminding us how fiercely our religious freedoms have to be guarded. Even if it means single-handedly taking on city hall—and a few ACLU grinches—to do it.


Chuck Colson



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