1973 — The Roe v. Wade case is decided

One of, if not the, most controversial cases in the history of jurisprudence in the United States, Roe v. Wade (in full: Jane Roe, et al. v. Henry Wade, District Attorney of Dallas County) was the decision that drew the line stating where in a pregnancy an abortion could occur – and not coincidentally, drew a big line in the cultural divide of America.

Ultimately, the decision provided that abortions could occur at any point prior to the third trimester of the pregnancy – and being the decision of the highest Federal court, it overrode the laws and court decisions of every state in the union. The court’s decision was based on the Constitutional right to due process (as specified in the 14th Amendment), and the more implicit right to privacy.

The decision satisfied no one, and the debate regarding abortion (for a value of debate that includes the occasional murder committed by people who hold “thou shalt not kill” as one of their most sacred moral precepts) continues even today.

Referenced in:

Soldiers of Christ — Jill Sobule

November 27, 1095 — Pope Urban II calls for the First Crusade

Urban II had been Pope for seven years in 1095. But the events he is best remembered for had their origin in March of 1095, when an ambassador from from the Emperor of Byzantium called upon him for aid against the Turk, who had captured much of the Anatolian hinterland and would soon press upon Byzantium itself.

At the Council of Clermont in November 1095, Urban called for a Crusade to retake the Holy Land (Palestine) from the Muslims. This would both place Jerusalem in Christian hands and relieve pressure on Byzantium by opening up another front in its war. What would become known as the First Crusade (of Nine) started the following year, in 1096, and lasted (in its active phase) until 1099. It was the most geographically successful of the Crusades, but its longest term effects were the reopening of trade between Europe and the Levant (and by extension, to its trading partners beyond) and the importation of Arabic texts (some of them translations of Greek and Roman texts) that led to the scientific revolutions of the next thousand years.

1859 — “On the Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin is first published

One of the most controversial books in the world, On the Origin of Species (often called Origin of the Species is one of the foundational texts of modern science. Not only is almost the entirety of modern biology built on its foundation, but it remains an excellent (if imperfect) example of the scientific method.

Charles Darwin had spent many years developing this theory, beginning with initial observations in 1835 during his voyage on the Beagle, and working on it in earnest for more than 15 years prior to publication. Darwin was entirely unprepared for the controversy he kicked off, although one suspects that he’d merely be saddened and confused by the low esteem in which a majority of Americans currently hold his theory.

Referenced in:

Soldiers of Christ — Jill Sobule

February 20, 3874 BCE — Cain murders Abel

It’s not clear exactly when Cain murdered Abel in any biblical chronology I’ve been able to find. Some of them even date it to 4004 BCE, the same year usually given for the Creation of the earth. Which implies that not only were Cain and Abel both full grown men in the space of a single year, but that their mother’s two pregnancies (Cain and Abel were not twins – Cain is the older), also took place in that same year.

Nevertheless, as brothers, they didn’t always get along. This may or may not have had something to do with the notoriously fickle and hard to please deity that they worshiped, or that deity’s changing of the rules on them – Cain presumably would not have made an offering that God (who is, according to the Gospel of Luke, Cain’s grandfather) that God found unacceptable had he known ahead of time that it would be rejected.

Cain responds to his rejection by God by hunting and killing his brother, Abel. (Which makes him sound a little older than >1 – about 16 or so, I would guess.) And then God, not done with the mind games, pretends not to know about it and questions Cain, leading to his infamous declaration that he was “not his brother’s keeper” (which is a rare concession to historical accuracy by the Book of Genesis – cricket had indeed not yet been invented). God curses Cain and exiles him, making him the earliest biblical figure to be set up and knocked down by God.

1252 — Pope Innocent IV unexpectedly authorizes the Inquisition to torture heretics

The Medieval Inquisition was a series of Inquisitions that slowly merged into a more or less continuous process of arrest and interrogation of suspected heretics. Like all good coppers, the Inquisitors often complained that they were hamstrung by the limitations under which they worked – i.e., that they needed more powers, more authority to use them, and so on. In the middle ages, what that basically meant was torture.

On May 15, Pope Innocent IV, who had been Pope for nine years and would continue in that capacity for another two, issued the now-infamous papal bull ad exstirpanda, which authorized, with some limits, the torture of suspected heretics for the purpose of eliciting confessions. The limitations were as follows:

  • that the torture did not cause loss of life or limb
  • that it was used only once
  • that the Inquisitor deemed the evidence against the accused to be virtually certain

In practice, these limitations were meaningless – loss of life or limb could be deemed accidental, ‘only once’ was often interpreted to mean a series of tortures collectively defined as one, and Inquisitors were somewhat less objective than the bull appeared to assume. Subsequent Popes would expand the scope and powers of the various Inquisitions.

Referenced in:

Soldiers of Christ — Jill Sobule
Sign of the Cross — Iron Maiden