It is the “human right” of government officials to say they cannot discharge duties that they believe go against their conscience, Pope Francis told reporters aboard the papal flight back to Rome on Monday.

“I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection,” the pope told reporters on the plane. “But, yes, I can say the conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right.

“And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”

The pontiff made his remarks on his return flight from the United States, in response to a question from ABC’s Terry Moran, who mentioned issuing marriage licenses to gay couples as an example.

It was unclear if the pope knew of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who earlier this year refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis, an Apostolic Christian, argued that granting a license to a gay couple would violate her religious beliefs. Davis was held in contempt and jailed for five days.

“Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right,” the pope said. “Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying ‘this right that has merit, this one does not.’ It is a human right.”

When asked specifically if he was including government workers in his response, Pope Francis responded: “It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”

You can read more about the flight here.

This post has been updated.

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