No law should enable protestors to prevent a grieving family from burying a loved one.

But no law can tell the protestors to be quiet.

That is the essence of the First Amendment of the Constitution and that is the principle that the U.S. Supreme Court should hold fast when it decides the fate of a tiny church in Kansas and its founder, the Rev. Fred W. Phelps.

Phelps has been able to grab headlines for his anti-gay protests outside military funerals for several years now.

His church consists mostly of members of his family, and the protests garner little support. His 2007 action in Portland at the funeral of Lance Cpl. Angel Rosa, who had been killed in Iraq, had only two protestors who were drowned out by a much larger counter-protest.

But the standard for free speech is not popularity; in fact, popular speech needs no protection from the law.

It’s hard to find a position that is more objectionable than the one Phelps is selling. He claims that these combat deaths are God’s vengeance on the United States for its tolerance of homosexual behavior.

His direct confrontation of the families of young men and women who lost their lives in the service of their country is offensive to almost everyone, regardless of their opinion on the ongoing wars or gay rights.

But other protests might also be offensive to most people. Who gets to decide what is over the line?

After Phelps’ visit, the Legislature passed a law that prohibits the disruption of a funeral. It would not have affected Phelps’s protest here, however, because he followed all local rules, holding his protests away from the church where Rosa’s funeral was held. His protest in the case under review by the Supreme Court would not have violated the Maine law, according to Attorney General Janet Mills, because it took place in a public area at a distance from the church and did not disrupt the service.

The fact that there was a protest was no doubt still upsetting for the mourners.

As much as we might like the government to force Phelps to show some respect for a family in pain, the best we can ask is that he says his piece and then moves on.