I despise Fred Phelps and the rest of his mouth-breathing, backwards wastes of human protoplasm. I also hate the idea of the government decidinh who can say what to who. Government is a blunt and stupid tool run by blunt and stupid tools. It should do as little as possible. There is no right in the Constitution against being offended. There is a right to say things that are patently and purposely offensive. So even though what Phelps does is grotesque, I don't want the government censoring him.
The Supreme Court heard the appeal about the money awarded to Matthew Snyder's dad for emotional distress inflicted when the anti-phag phorces infested his son's funeral. I initially didn't think there was much chance they would rule in favor of Snyder, but I read this and it makes a very good case for the idea that some words can by their utterance inflict injury. There is a ruling that strongly supports this idea.
The Chaplinsky case also had the advantage of building on a tradition of understanding in the law that “assaults” did not strictly require the laying on of hands. One could shoot and deliberately miss. One could hold an unloaded gun near the head of a victim and click the trigger. There was not that much discrimination between an act of that kind and threatening calls in the night, or letters of extortion—or a cross burned outside the home of a black family. People who knew the conventions in their own language would have no trouble telling the difference, say, between a burning cross and a burning shoe box. With this understanding, swastikas and burning crosses and blazing epithets could be understood as “assaults” as fully as rocks thrown at victims.
I still believe that as reprehensible as Phelps' actions are, they are not a reason to fetter speech based on how it makes a listener feel.