On Pope Francis' flight home to the Vatican following his 10-day visit to the United States and Cuba, a reporter asked him if he believed people were right to break the law if it conflicted with their personal beliefs — for example, government officials refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
"Do you ... support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience ... abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example when issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples?" a reporter asked the the pope, according to Think Progress.
"Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right," Francis said, according to Reuters. He said conscientious objection free from legal or political persecution was a "human right."
"I can't have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right," Francis said. "And if someone does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right."
"If we want to make peace, we must respect all rights."
During Francis' visit, he referenced the import of religious freedom, telling former Cuban President Fidel Castro on Sept. 20 the Catholic Church should be afforded the "freedom, the means and the space needed" to operate as it wants to in Cuba.
The question alluded to Rowan County clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky; Davis, after the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and subsequently became a divisive national figure on the issue.
The pope did not specifically reference Davis in his answer and instead spoke to his general belief in an individual's right to refuse participating in activities they do not want to. However, many were quick to equate his response with Davis' exoneration.
While Francis and the Catholic Church do not condone same-sex marriage, he took a departure from his institution's outright condemnation of homosexuality, when he said he would not judge gay people. "If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?" he said in 2013, reports the New York Times.
Sept. 28, 2015, 12:04 p.m.: This article has been updated.