Debate Rules and Judging


The Process of Moral Forum Debate

Embedded in the rules of Moral Forum debate are several key requirements, intended to guide students as they practice the art of civil discourse. Teams arrive prepared to argue both the affirmative and the negative position.  A Moral Forum debate round begins with a coin toss, which determines which team will handle which position.

Constructive Arguments: Speaker 1 (from the affirmative side) and Speaker 2 (from the negative side) each have four minutes to construct and present a logical argument with evidentiary support.  Speakers are particularly concerned with framing their argument within a value premise (often including values such as freedom, equality, justice, and the sanctity of life).  This moral-ethical context serves as the framework for the team’s entire argument. Two or three key justifications (contentions) based in evidentiary support and expert opinions are also presented to back up the value-based argument.

Cross-Examination Round: Taking place between Speakers 1 and 2, each student poses brief and relevant questions, answers concisely, and takes turns. Rather than attacking opponents in the style of traditional cross-examination, this three-minute civil discussion allows teams to clarify arguments, challenge the differences that exist, and point out gaps in reasoning.  Shouting, interrupting, and filibustering are not allowed.

Rebuttal: Before beginning their rebuttals, the second speaker for each team (Speakers 3 and 4) is required to identify and sincerely present the opposing team’s strongest and most persuasive point. Because the aim is to identify at least one legitimate point in the opposing argument, the speaker is forced to reverse perspectives and acknowledge that when dealing with controversial moral issues even the best argument is imperfect.  Once this requirement is accomplished, Speakers 3 and 4 are allowed four minutes apiece to analyze the opponents’ position and explain flaws in the arguments presented.

Cross-Examination Round: A second three-minute cross-examination takes place between Speakers 3 and 4.

Summary Focus: The final phase of the debate requires Speakers 1 and 2 to crystallize their position’s main arguments for the judges. In this three-minute summary, no new points or rebuttals are allowed. A final unique requirement of Moral Forum debate also occurs during the Summary Focus: Both teams must offer a compromise or a synthesis of both positions—in such a way that valid arguments from both points of view can be dealt with in the search for a solution.

Vision Statement: The speakers each present a vision statement seeking to transcend the points of contention and suggest a possible approach toward informed public action. The speakers should suggest ways to move forward together and improve the situation, even with the two opposing views that have been presented.


Judging of Moral Forum

Judging of the debate is heavily based on the use of the value to support the team’s position and effective reasoning in relating the value to the topic at hand.  Points are also awarded based on analysis of the issue: Did the debater cover the most important issues to the topic?  Judges also look at effective rebuttals and evidence:  Did the speakers support their argument with facts and expert opinions?  Effective delivery is also a key component.  Debaters are rewarded for civil, communicative, organized arguments and penalized for rudeness and poor communication.