By Darla Shelden
After 24 years, under the leadership of Executive Director Joann Bell, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma has named former Oklahoma State Representative Ryan Kiesel, as her successor.
“It is an honor to be a part of an organization that relentlessly defends the rights of Oklahomans at the legislature, in communities large and small, and when necessary at the courthouse,” said Kiesel.
Kiesel said he applied for the position because the mission of the ACLU of Oklahoma reflects his attitude towards public service.
“You don’t have to look hard to find those who disagreed with many of the positions I took in the legislature, but I took those positions, however unpopular they may have been, because it was the right thing to do, said Kiesel.
“The same can be said of the ACLU of Oklahoma; its course is not set by the prevailing political winds of the day, rather it is guided by a steadfast commitment to defending the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” he said.
Serving in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 2004 to 2010, Kiesel often worked to defend civil liberties issues such as reproduction rights, free speech and religious freedom.
He is a member of The American Constitution Society, serves on the Board of Directors of the Jasmine Moran Children’s Museum and teaches a course as an adjunct professor at the OU College of Law. His wife, Allison, is a pharmacist.
“For the first year I’d like to grow our membership, particularly in smaller communities around the state. I think that helps to identify particular issues where the ACLU might be able to intervene. But I also think it plays a big role in our legislative program as well. When our message comes not from us, but from a constituent in the community, I think it has a special significance to legislators.” said Kiesel.
The ACLU of Oklahoma is one of 53 affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union, a national not-for-profit, non-partisan, voluntary organization founded in 1920. Its purpose is to protect those rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
ACLU history has focused on advocating in Oklahoma for the rights of institutionalized persons; educators; students; persons who speak out against governmental abuse; women; and minorities of religious, ethnic or racial character.
A reception was recently held by the Coyle Law Firm, in downtown Oklahoma City, honoring the ACLU of Oklahoma for their continued commitment to defending civil liberties.
During the event, Ruby Coyle, ACLU intern and daughter of attorney John Coyle, spoke of the work the chapter has been doing in 2011 under the leadership of Interim ACLU-OK Executive Director, Mark Henricksen. She said, “The ACLU of Oklahoma fights for speech, privacy, gay rights, woman’s rights, for choice, and for fairer sentencing in criminal justice. Along with our affiliates across the country, the ACLU is standing up for our rights and will continue to do so through 2012 and beyond with our support.”
Kiesel said, “Mark Henrickson was here for a while and did a fantastic job. I think the ACLU owes him a debt of gratitude for stepping up to provide his services while managing a very active law firm.”
Located on Paseo, the ACLU-OK is connecting with the local community through events like the Paseo Arts Festival and First Friday gallery walk. In September they partnered with the deadCENTER Film Festival to screen a short, still photography film and also displayed watercolors by Oklahoma artist Chase Winkle.
“I think more Oklahoman’s agree with the ACLU than maybe they realize. Recognizing that we’re going to take unpopular positions sometimes, I want Oklahomans to also realize that on a decision that they might disagree with today, that tomorrow they may need us to stand up for them on that position,” stated Kiesel.
For more information about the ACLU of Oklahoma visit acluok.org/