Monday night marked the Democrats' most interesting debate to date -- which is to say, the audience fell unconscious about halfway through, as opposed to during the opening statements.
But amid all of the technological hubbub and political jockeying, there was one question that stood out. The questioner was Reverend Reggie Longcrier, pastor of Exodus Mission and Outreach Church in Hickory, North Carolina. "Sen. Edwards said his opposition to gay marriage is influenced by his Southern Baptist background," Longcrier stated. "Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segregation and denying women the right to vote. So why is it still acceptable to use religion to deny gay Americans their full and equal rights?"
Sen. Edwards first stated that based on his religious principles, he was personally opposed to same-sex marriage. Then, he retreated from his principles: "I think it is absolutely wrong, as president of the United States, for me to have used that faith basis as a basis for denying anybody their rights, and I will not do that when I'm president of the United States."
Edwards was clearly mistaken in his appraisal of the role of religious values in politics. Religion shapes morals; morals shape politics. The Constitution forbids Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion. It does not bar politicians or voters from consulting their moral compasses in charting America's course on the big issues of our day.
But Longcrier's question was more telling than Edwards' predictably wrongheaded answer. Longcrier's question is symptomatic of a broader strategy implemented by proponents of "progressive" values: shifting the burden of proof.
In adversarial legal systems, one side always has the burden of proving their case; the other, the lesser burden of defending their case. In American criminal law, for example, prosecutors must prove defendants' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendants must merely create reasonable doubt to prevail. Prosecutors have the burden of proof; defendants must only defend themselves.
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