Phelps replied that non-speech activity could indeed give rise to a potential claim, but said that her group received permits and stayed within the permitted boundaries when they protested.
At one point Justice Stephen Breyer, searching to draw a line regarding posting items on the Internet like the group's epic poem said, "I don't know what the rules ought to be. "
Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at the George Washington University Law School said, "This case might not have huge constitutional dimensions, but it does raise this very important question, namely: how much protection do relatively private figures have against hurtful, outrageous, insulting, emotionally-aggravating speech?"
After the arguments, Albert Snyder appeared outside the court and, with emotion, read a statement, calling the day his son died, the "worst day of his life." His grief was compounded, he said, by being targeted by the church's demonstrations. "It is one thing no family should ever have to go through."
Margie Phelps spoke outside the court as well, and said, "There is no line that could be drawn here without shutting down speech." She told reporters, "You should all be thanking us for that heavy lifting we did in there."
At one point she broke into song with members of her congregation who stood behind her.
The case has attracted a flurry of friend-of-the-court briefs on both sides. Lawyers representing 40 states which have passed laws regulating protests at funerals, have weighed in on Snyder's behalf.
"The States should be accorded their traditionally recognized police powers to adopt and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner regulations on activities that may disrupt funerals, and to define civil tort liability for conduct that intentionally inflicts emotional distress and invades sacred privacy interests," said the brief, written by the Attorney General Steve Six of Kansas, who was joined by the other states.
The American Civil Liberties Union, however, has weighed in on behalf of the free speech concerns of the Phelps and their church. In court papers, lawyers for the ACLU wrote, the "First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion are designed to protect the right of speakers to voice their views on matters of public concern and to express their religious convictions."