Letter from Former FIRE Intern John Cetta to FIRE Supporters

By on June 1, 2010

Dear Supporters:

My name is John Cetta and I am a graduating senior at Cornell University and a soon-to-be law student at the University of Minnesota Law School. I am writing to thank you for your support of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), where I had the privilege of interning last summer. Working at FIRE was an invaluable experience that contributed to my academic success and confirmed my belief in the importance of free and open discourse on campus. I stepped into the world of civil liberties at FIRE, and I left armed with tools to fight for free speech rights on campus and prepared to enter the "real world" with an even greater passion for protecting and promoting our free society.

Your past support for FIRE gave me that tremendous opportunity. Today, I ask you to consider donating to FIRE’s 2010 Internship Program so that other students like me can experience what it means to fight for civil liberties this summer.

When I started my college career, I was shocked to see the blatant disregard for students’ and professors’ fundamental freedoms on campus. At Cornell and at other schools, professors were stripped of their academic freedom, student speech was confined to impossibly small areas of campus, and outrageously vague and overbroad policies stifled healthy debate. Was this what I had bought with my tuition? On my very own campus, a pro-life student group’s approved signs were pulled out of the ground and confiscated by administrators, who had to be forced by police to return them. At other schools, I heard about campus displays being stomped on and campus newspapers being stolen because students disagreed with the content. I began to wonder whether my previous view of collegethe university as a free and open institution that values breadth of opinion and color of viewpointwas a relic of the past.

I knew this wasn’t the educational atmosphere my parents wanted for me, so I began to look for a way to alert others to the endangered state of liberty at colleges and universities and for a way to restore the basic freedoms I had seen denied. That’s when I found FIRE.

Once I was introduced to FIRE, I knew that the tools it offered and the networks it provided would enable me to better Cornell and, ultimately, become a more responsible American citizen. Thanks to funding from donors like you, I came to FIRE last summer and found a way to restore liberty to my campus. Today, I hope you will consider giving this invaluable opportunity to eight more students by making a contribution to FIRE.

Your support will not fund the stereotypical intern experience full of copying, filing, and making coffee. Instead, it will fund a rigorous ten-week, hands-on program during which student advocates will learn about their rights and will become ambassadors for liberty. They, like me, will return to their own campuses and educate their peers about intrusions upon their rights, attract student support, and strive to change the campus culture.

By investing in just one new intern, you will invest in restoring to thousands of students across the nation the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.

The internship at FIRE is a comprehensive educational experience. During my time as an intern, I experienced everything from assessing new case submissions at Individual Rights Defense Program meetings, to hearing from civil liberties leaders like Professor Don Downs and FIRE Co-founder and National Humanities Medal recipient Alan Charles Kors, to organizing FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network annual summer conference. If FIRE secures the funding needed to host the 2010 class of interns starting in June, eight more young and enthusiastic students will have the opportunity to see, from the inside out, how a well-run nonprofit can better our society. Better still, they will have the opportunity to defend some of our most valued liberties.

While the internship program really opened my eyes to the rampant culture of repression that exists on today’s campuses, it also showed me that there are real world solutions to this growing problem. The flagrant rights abuses committed by heavy-handed administrators obsessed with political correctness can be stopped with dedication, perseverance, and collaboration.

With support from its donors, FIRE chose to invest in me last summer by teaching me how to empower my peers to stand up for their rights. So far, that investment has paid off. When I returned to Cornell as a Student Representative to the University Assembly, I lobbied the administration to secure the freedom of association rights of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship; I wrote an open letter to the University President in The Cornell Daily Sun; and I encouraged my classmates to join FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network so they too could learn how to promote free expression on campus.

Today, I continue to volunteer my time to FIRE because I believe so profoundly in the words of Alan Charles Kors: "A nation that does not educate in liberty will not long preserve it and will not even know when it is lost." The consequences of campus repression reverberate far beyond the campus walls and risk breaking the very spirit that makes us Americans.

If you renew your commitment to FIRE and to the next generation of our nation’s leaders, you will give eight students like me the experience necessary to spread awareness to the tens of thousands of students at their schools, who will then enter the real world not afraid to speak their minds or to challenge the status quo. They will become parents who instill in their children the principles this country was founded upon. They will become our politicians who uphold the Bill of Rights with the dignity it deserves. All of this can be accomplished with a small donation from you.

Your financial support has made a real difference in my life, and I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn from the best, challenge myself, and grow as an American through my internship with FIRE. Now, let’s give this chance to other hardworking students.

Included with this letter is a donation form. I kindly ask you to fill it out and send it to FIRE in the reply envelope provided if you, like me, believe we must educate our nation’s future leaders in liberty, rather than repression. You can also make your tax-deductible donation online at www.thefire.org/donate.

If you have any questions about my experience working with FIRE and learning about our core constitutional freedoms, I would love to talk to you. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at joc23@cornell.edu. To learn more about FIRE’s work, current cases, and the Internship Program, you can visit www.thefire.org or call 215-717-3473.

Thank you for your crucial support.

Respectfully yours,

John Cetta

FIRE Intern, 2009

P.S. FIRE has a great class of 2010 interns lined up from some of our nation’s most embattled campuses, including Bucknell University student Kirby Thompson. Kirby stood up for the Bucknell University Conservatives Club after administrators shut down the group’s events three times in just two months (earning Bucknell a spot on FIRE’s Red Alert List). I encourage you to read more about Kirby and the other interns your donation will sponsor at www.thefire.org/interns.