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Retired Oklahoma ACLU executive honored for First Amendment efforts

FOI Oklahoma presented awards Saturday, honoring those dedicated to the free flow of information.
FROM STAFF REPORTS Published: March 13, 2011

Joann Bell, who retired recently after 24 years with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, was named winner Saturday of Freedom of Information Oklahoma's Marian Opala First Amendment Award.

The group also presented its Ben Blackstock Award to The Oklahoman for its work to keep state employee birth dates open, and its Sunshine Award to state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, for his sponsorship and support of bills to increase transparency in government.

The Black Hole Award was for state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, for working to exempt state employees' birth dates.

FOI Oklahoma also announced winners of its first open government-themed essay contest for college students. First place went to Nicole Hill of the University of Oklahoma. The second- and third-place winners were Oklahoma State University students Liz Watkins and Elizabeth Goodfellow. The students won cash prizes of $300, $200 and $100.

The awards presentation was in conjunction with Sunshine Week, which highlighted “Local Heroes” across the country who have played significant roles in fighting for open government.

About the winners

The Opala Award recognizes individuals who have promoted education about or protection of individual rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Bell, of Harrah, started with the ACLU as a part-time litigation coordinator in 1987 and then became the Oklahoma ACLU's second executive director in 1988. Bell went to work with the ACLU after a long but successful court battle. She was a plaintiff in a seminal 10th Circuit Court case on the separation of church and state.

Bell, a member of the Church of the Nazarene, and her co-plaintiff pursued the lawsuit in the face of community hostility.

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