Obama Clashes With Pope on Kim Davis and Religious Freedom

Pope Francis (L) speaks as U.S. President Barack Obama looks on as the pontiff is welcomed to the White House during a ceremony in Washington, September 23, 2015.
Pope Francis (L) speaks as U.S. President Barack Obama looks on as the pontiff is welcomed to the White House during a ceremony in Washington, September 23, 2015. | (Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Pope Francis and President Barack Obama were on opposite sides of the ongoing dispute between religious freedom and gay rights in separate remarks.

Obama said on Sunday that freedom of religion does not mean that any Americans should be denied their constitutional rights, and suggested that traditional marriage supporters need to "catch up" to the rest of the country. Pope Francis has meanwhile said that conscientious objection is a "human right," when asked about the Kim Davis case.

"We affirm that we cherish our religious freedom and are profoundly respectful of religious traditions," Obama told members of the LGBT community on Sunday, according to CBS News. "But we also have to say clearly that our religious freedom doesn't grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights."

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"And that even as we are respectful and accommodating genuine concerns and interests of religious institutions, we need to reject politicians who are supporting new forms of discrimination as a way to scare up votes. That's not how we move America forward," Obama added.

The president also reportedly said it would take time for gay marriage opponents to "catch up" to the rest of the U.S.

Kentucky clerk Davis has been in the center of a religious freedom controversy, and earlier in September spent several days in jail after she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Davis has explained that her belief in traditional marriage between one man and one woman does not allow her to violate her conscience on the matter.

"God's moral law conflicts with my job duties," she has said. "You can't be separated from something that's in your heart and your soul."

"I am no hero. I'm just a person that's been transformed by the grace of God, who wants to work, be with my family. I just want to serve my neighbors quietly without violating my conscience," the clerk added.

The National Catholic Reporter noted on Monday that Pope Francis was asked about the Davis case on his flight back to Rome from Philadelphia.

The Roman Catholic Church leader said that he is unaware of the details around the case, but argued that "conscientious objection is a right — it is a human right."

The pontiff, who recently concluded a week-long visit to America, said that if rights are denied in certain circumstances, it would create a situation where some human rights are deemed more important than others.

Francis also said that Davis, as a human being, should be allowed the right to follow her conscience.

But an ABC News/Washington Post poll earlier in September found that the majority of Americans believe that Davis should indeed be required by law to issue licenses to gay couples.

The survey further found that 74 percent of respondents believe that equality under the law is more important than religious freedom when the two collide, and 72 percent backed the decision to send Davis to jail for failing to comply with the order.

Obama had welcomed Francis for his first ever visit to the White House on Wednesday, where the two spoke on issues such as defending religious liberties and safeguarding the environment.

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