Bryan Lentz and the Coffin Flag Controversy

Bryan Lentz is a veteran and a young Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Today the right wing Philadelphia Inquirer asked Lentz to defend the policy of nt allowing press photographs of the flag draped coffins of servicemen on their return to the US. Lentz failed logically in presenting his arguments.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Barack Obama recently said his people would be reviewing the policy of not allowing photographs of soldiers coffins, draped in American flags, to be photographed by the press as they return to Dover from wherever that soldier died. As the proud owner of the flag that draped my father’s coffin, I believe we should honor all of our soldiers, their commitment and their service, by noting, with solemnity. I just don’t see how photographing the coffins impedes that goal. But the Philadelphia Inquirer, in its neverending pursuit of defending George Bush’s policies, has brought in Bryan Lentz, a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, to defend that policy. Lentz shows just how weak he is at structuring an argument in said defense when he discusses the notion of free speech and how it impacts the ruling.

Here’s the offending paragraph from Bryan Lentz in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

For those who say the First Amendment requires unfettered public access, I say – in this limited case – the First Amendment be damned. Free-speech protections don’t encompass yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and they shouldn’t include intruding on mourning military families.

There’s a world of nonsense in Lentz’s words here. First, the yelling “Fire” example is an example of one area where we may limit speech because yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater can be a major safety hazard. There is no safety hazard to taking press photos of flag draped coffins. Lentz’s analogy is simply stupid. If Lentz can find precedent where free speech is inhibited in order to spare the feelings of mourners, then he might find the proper precedent, but there’s no evidence in these cases that photographs of flaf draped coffins harms anyone’s ability to mourn. Indeed, there are no names on the coffins, and thus there is no privacy violated when photos are taken of those coffins.

Bryan Lentz has put up some straw men arguments to defend a Bush policy that helped sanitize a war where Bush asked for no sacrifice from the American people, then tried to shield our view from the ultimate sacrifices he did require. Americans in general were impeded under the Bush Administration, through a limitation of free speech, to take part in a national mouring in a significant way. We were not required by Bush to sacrifice, and we were limited by Bush in experiencing the sacrifice of others.

I respect Bryan Lentz’s service to our country. Indeed, and in the interest of full disclosure, I have touted his campaigning in the past, for instance here, where I touted his plan to challenge Curt Weldon a few years ago. Bryan Lentz may have heartfelt reasons to want the coverage of flag draped coffins of servicemen to be stifled, and I can respect those heartfelt reasons. I just can’t respect his use of faulty logic in defense of those policies.

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

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