Joann Bell, ACLU OKlahoma Executive Director, 1988 – 2011
Joann Bell began working as Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma Foundation in 1988. Prior to her appointment to that post, she had served as part-time Litigation Coordinator since 1987. Bell became involved in the organization after serving as a plaintiff in Bell vs. Little Axe, a land mark case for the separation of church and state in Oklahoma.
Bell’s commitment to religious liberty has earned awards from groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State, The Freedom from Religion Foundation and The American Ethical Union. She is also a past winner of the ACLU of Oklahoma Angie Debo Civil Libertarian of the Year Award. The Playboy Foundation bestowed a First Amendment Law Award upon her in 1989.
At the request of U.S. Representative Don Edwards, Bell testified before a Congressional hearing considering the Equal Access Act of 1984, which allowed student-initiated religious clubs the same use of public school facilities as other non-curricular clubs. She has discussed civil liberties issues with numerous television, radio and print media and is currently in demand as an outspoken opponent of the USA PATRIOT Act.
In addition to her work with the ACLU, Bell also served as state co-chair for the Oklahoma Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty. While the First Amendment is her major concern, she also actively advocates for reproductive freedom, Lesbian/Gay rights and the abolition of capital punishment.
Bell retired from the ACLU of Oklahoma in 2011, though she remains active in the organization.
Beginning immediately after her retirement, Bell agreed to serve the national ACLU as a speaker. Bell will travel the country speaking about her experience as both a former employee and plaintiff of the ACLU of Oklahoma. Bell indicates she intends to continue the fight for civil liberties as long as she is able. Bell was a tremendous force at the ACLU of Oklahoma. She will be greatly missed, but her legacy lives on.