Chances are, you didn’t even know this happened.

On Monday, Labor Day in America, an extradordinary new form of encounter with presidential hopefuls took place in South Carolina that was so extraordinary in form and content, it should set the template for all future contests among candidates.

There were two ways to view the two-hour event, the most dignified, informative, fair and honorable such encounter yet. To its credit, CNN televised it, though with many commercial breaks and intervening commentary by newsman John King. But I used those breaks to keep up with the ongoing event in its live streaming telecast online.

From the start, the American Principles Project Palmetto Freedom Forum intended to be a new kind of presidential debate.

Boy, did it succeed.

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Congressman Steve King of Iowa, and the founder of the American Principles Project, Princeton Professor Robert George, asked the questions…

Five major GOP candidates stood nakedly on the stage, taking deep questions about constitutional principles—without a podium or a reporter in sight—for 20 minutes.

It was brilliant. The questions, the questioners, the forum, the format, the dignity and integrity of the occasion were all honorably fitting for the occasion of exposing the vision and principles of those who seek to be president to the electorate who are so desperately seeking a leader who embraces the moral values Americans hold as core beliefs.

For the first time, presidential candidates were asked: Does the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection apply to unborn human beings, and if so, doesn’t Congress have express constitutional authority to enforce this guarantee?

Dr. George asked that question of each candidate, and from the first one, it set the stage of finally being a forum with gravitas.

Also newsworthy: For the first time, all the major contenders…have pledged to nominate a vice presidential candidate who supports life and marriage. Romney at first left himself some wiggle room, but in the end firmly committed to a pro-life, pro-marriage veep: “These are important enough issues that the person I select would share my views,” he promised.

And for the first time, major presidential candidates committed to protecting people and religious organizations in danger of being excluded from the public square because they do not support gay marriage or gay adoption.

The candidates…including the current president seeking re-election…aren’t getting asked these questions anywhere else. The 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection? Shouldn’t we know the contenders’ strongly held views of that (and how strongly they are held)?

Yes.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....