She pleaded to judge Michael Sauer, “I’m very sorry. I didn’t do it on purpose.” But Sauer wasn’t moved. Career heiress, socialite and reality TV star Paris Hilton was sentenced to 45 days in a special needs housing unit of a Los Angeles county jail. Last September, Hilton, age 26, was arrested for drunk driving. In January she pleaded no contest, was sentenced to three years probation and had her driver’s license revoked.
In May, after two more traffic violations, never enrolling in an alcohol education course and driving with a suspended license, Hilton was sentenced to jail. Claiming that the punishment was too harsh, Hilton unsuccessfully appealed to California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to pardon her.
The story became even more sensational when Hilton was jailed last week but was sent home by the sheriff after only 3 days for an unspecified “medical condition”. Ordered by the sheriff to serve out the rest of her sentence under house arrest and electronic monitoring, Hilton spent one night at home before appearing in court again last Friday. Judge Sauer sent a screaming and crying Hilton right back to jail shouting, “It’s not right!” and “Mom!”
Do you think Hilton was treated to celebrity justice and is getting off too lightly? Or do you think she was unfairly singled out and was given too stiff a jail term? And how does the American public contribute to Hilton’s skewed perception of reality by our worship of celebrities? What we do know is that Paris Hilton decided that the rules did not apply to her, and she is now being held accountable…, just like the Penn State men’s football team.
Next week Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions will begin four once a week sessions building homes for Habitat for Humanity. They’ll also be volunteering for the Special Olympics. And when fall comes, they will be cleaning the 107,000 seat Beaver Stadium the day after they play in front of national audiences.
You see, this spring six Penn State football players were arrested for their involvement in an off-campus fight. At least fifteen football players were present, and Joe Paterno felt that the entire team did not use good judgment and therefore needed to be held accountable.
Usually, the job of cleaning the stadium is delegated to lesser sports clubs on campus, whose programs receive $5,000 for their efforts. This fall the clubs will still get the money, but the football players will clean the morning after.
At a recent banquet in Philadelphia, Paterno told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that all the payers will participate, “not just the kids that were involved. ‘Cause we’re all in it together. This is a team embarrassment. I wouldn’t call it anything much other than that.” He said, “I hope this will make them a better group and make them better people.”
Paterno will let the judicial system take its course. Rather than cover for his players or try to bend the rules, Paterno understands the importance of learning from mistakes. Calling others to a higher standard: that’s why the 80 year old Paterno has been a hero at Penn State for the past 40 years.
I think we can all identify with the Paris Hilton and Penn State stories. Whether it is refusing to believe that our own children can get into trouble, or not holding accountable people in our churches who act out, we are all guilty at times of overlooking and even condoning inappropriate behavior.
It often comes down to one of the most vexing paradoxes of the Christian faith: judgment and grace. When do we forgive and forget, and when do we call people to task? When do we give second, third and fourth chances, and when do we realize that it’s time to be truth tellers? When we do we show extravagant grace, and when do we exhibit a tough love which holds other accountable?
I’ve learned the hard way that when we continually rescue others, they don’t learn, grow and mature. In recovery jargon, it’s called co-dependence, or enabling bad behavior to continue. I’ve often said that if I err, I want to err on the side of grace. I simply hope that God will give me the wisdom and discernment to be able to graciously confront those who flaunt the rules and lead them on the right path by example. It may be the best gift we ever give them.
I am convinced that the punishment of the Penn State football players and Paris Hilton will be character-building and will ultimately steer them back on the right track. However, if you think Paris Hilton “is too precious to be a jailbird,” log on to
www.iam4paris.com. It will tell you exactly how many days, hours, minutes and seconds before she goes free. Plus, you can show your support for the “Free Paris” Movement with a limited edition “Free Paris” bracelet that you can wear proudly. These high quality bracelets are available for a limited time for $9.99 and are in Paris’ favorite color….PINK! Not quite the color of Pentecost, but close!