Edwin Gaustad

Champion Of Religious Liberty And Sound History

The cause of church-state separation lost one of its champions March 25 with the death of Edwin Gaustad at age 87.

A great friend of Americans United, Gaustad served for many years as a professor of history and religious studies at the University of California-Riverside. He was an expert on Roger Williams, the colonial-era religious liberty pioneer, and authored several books on Williams and other church-state topics.

Gaustad, a lifelong Baptist, understood why church-state separation is the best mechanism for protecting pluralism and religious freedom. He had a special gift for explaining that to people in language they could grasp.

Think of Gaustad as Religious Right leaders’ worst nightmare: a credentialed historian and a man of faith who used his considerable intellect to demolish their lies. He never backed down from a fight. In 2002, Gaustad served as an expert witness in a case Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center brought against Roy Moore, Alabama’s infamous “Ten Commandments” judge. With the erudite Gaustad in the courtroom, Moore never stood a chance.

Edwin Gaustad leaves a legacy that will endure through his books, through the students whose lives he changed and through his activism. He will be greatly missed.