I understand that abortion protesters have a right to free speech on campus, but do they have a right to display signs with pictures of mutilated fetuses that are graphic, gruesome, and/or disturbing?

Generally, displaying a sign is a speech activity if the sign is displayed on public property and relates to a matter of public concern. Since most speech is protected by the First Amendment, such signs can only be removed if they belong in one of the limited classes of unprotected speech (i.e., obscenity, profanity, libel, or “fighting words”), or if removing the signs serves a compelling government interest and the removal is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. Courts have held that pictures of mutilated fetuses used in abortion protests do not fall into any of the categories of unprotected speech, but by their nature convey a powerful message on a divisive social issue in our country. While the signs are disturbing to many members of our community, and capable of causing emotional distress, the First Amendment does not permit the university to prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds it disagreeable. As long as protesters’ signs are obeying the University’s content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions, they are protected First Amendment speech.