- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Rita Warren and her Nativity scene are back at the Fairfax County, Va., Government Center, but this time it’s with the blessing of the federal courts.
In October, Mrs. Warren won the final round in a four-year legal fight with the county. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 9-3 that even though Mrs. Warren didn’t live in the county, she could erect her Nativity display, or creche, in front of the building, despite a county law restricting the space to county residents.
Earlier this month Mrs. Warren thanked county supervisors for not appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. Her new focus now will be to ask Virginia lawmakers to allow a moment of silence for reflection or prayer in public schools.
But for the “Creche Crusader,” a 71-year-old bundle of energy, her best work comes not in the courtroom or the legislature, but in public spaces.
With displays this year in Fairfax County, at the governor’s office in Richmond and the U.S. Capitol, she does her part to keep the religious meaning of Christmas the focus, in the midst of rain, hecklers, and, last year, the president’s impeachment.
While the House was impeaching the president and, later, as the Senate refused to convict him, Mrs. Warren became a popular interview subject for television and newspaper reporters.
Mrs. Warren recruits members of her church, Trinity Assembly of God, in Burke, to watch the Fairfax display while she stands with the one at the Capitol.
Bill Sick, 46, a new arrival to the area, was standing his first guard yesterday. He said he doesn’t know Mrs. Warren very well, but he had a vacation day and couldn’t think of a better place to spend an hour than with the manger scene.
“The message speaks for itself,” he said.
Mrs. Warren spends most days during the summer, at Christmastime and again at Easter on the Capitol steps.
“In 20 years, I’ve never missed a day out here, and I’ve never missed a midnight out here,” she said of her Christmas schedule, which brings her out every Christmas Eve. She swears a star appears over the Supreme Court building every year that night, and moves across the sky to the top of the Capitol steps.
In her 20 years, Mrs. Warren has seen just about everything on the steps.
This summer, a teacher leading a group of children was so upset by the religious display that she took one of Mrs. Warren’s sheep from the scene. The Capitol Police saw her and retrieved the sheep.
Yesterday, standing by the display with her daughter, Teresa Pepin, 42, Mr. Warren had another first a jogger, also upset by the display, ran amid the circle of figures and began batting them with his hands, almost tipping them over.
The police, who all know Mrs. Warren by name and who Mrs. Warren calls guardian angels, immediately pulled the man away from the display and admonished him.
She recalls the day a few years ago when a man came by and, for an hour, yelled at her, using every expletive in the book some, she said, she didn’t even recognize.
She said she kept her cool. She said she prayed he would stay awake thinking about the confrontation that night. She felt certain he’d come back.
The next day, as Mrs. Warren was setting up her figures, the man did come back. He said he just couldn’t fall asleep because he was thinking about her and her figures, and he had come back to apologize.
Even as a camera crew from Channel 7 interviewed a Jewish family upset by the display yesterday, Mrs. Warren stood by with a smile. Her job, she says, is just to put the message out there. She says those bad incidents are few, and 99 percent of people are like the tourists who take photographs of each other among the figures.
Mrs. Warren is also a devout believer in miracles. She tells a story of the time she says an angel protected her while she was buying one of her creches in New York.
The day she had her first permit to set up on the Capitol steps, 20 years ago, she drove to the Bronx to buy the life-size fiberglass figures she still uses.
She’d never been to the Bronx, and as she drove her station wagon through the city she said she was stunned by how run-down and intimidating everything looked. She looked around for police, but didn’t see any.
Carrying $1,600 in cash, she arrived at the old garage where she bought the figures a shepherd, a lamb, the wise men, Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus.
The Jewish man selling the figures loaded them into the car, and when Mrs. Warren went out to get in her car a motorcycle police officer was waiting behind her station wagon.
The police officer never said a word as she started her car. He followed her to the George Washington Bridge. As she crossed the bridge she looked back, but he had disappeared.
“Nobody seemed to know how he got there, but I believe … I believe in angels,” Mrs. Warren said.

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