In 2004 Italian politician Rocco Buttiglione was forced to withdraw his nomination as a candidate for the European Union's new Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security because of his Catholic views on homosexuality and abortion.
Benjamin Harnwell, then an assistant to Nirj Deva, a British Member of the European Parliament, said that "Buttiglione was rejected, in the words of one socialist British MP, not for anything he had said but for what, as a Catholic, he might think. For the first time I appreciated the extent to which a requirement was being placed on public figures to divest themselves of their Christianity in order to be acceptable to a militant secular environment."
So deeply concerned was Harnwell that, inspired by Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom on the inviolable rights of the human person and the constitutional order of society, in 2008 with a group of Catholic European parliamentarians and politicians, he founded the Dignitatis Humanae Institute. Through this body, politicians can offer responses to the growing opposition to Christian values in public life. With an office in Rome and working groups in several parliaments, the DHI aims to be a focal point of reference worldwide for Catholics involved in public life.
The Institute's "Universal Declaration of Human Dignity" consists of three main principles: that man is made in the image and likeness of God; that this image and likeness exist in every single human being, without exception, from conception until natural death; and that the most effective means of safeguarding this recognition is through the active participation of the Christian faith in the public square.
Lord David Alton of Liverpool, head of the UK's parliamentary working group on human dignity, told Catholic World Report that "G.K. Chesterton famously once said when you lose any respect for human dignity, not long after you lose respect for human rights as well. Those two things always go together, and their basis for us as Christians is the biblical principle in Genesis that every single person is imago Dei, made in the image and likeness of God."
Rocco Buttiglione, philosophy professor and vice president of Italy's Chamber of Deputies, is patron of DHI and Lord Nicholas Windsor, who in October 2012 gave the Inaugural Dinner Oration preceding the March for the Babies in Melbourne, is the Chairman. The Advisory Board of DHI includes Cardinals Francis Arinze, Raymond Burke, Malcolm Ranjith, Peter Turkson, and Joseph Zen Zekiun.
Barnwell is President of the Board of Trustees and Nirj Deva is President of the International Committee on Human Dignity. Ilyas Khan, British financier, philanthropist, and well-known convert to the Catholic Church from Islam, is DHI's vice-chairman. Khan is also chairman of the world's largest charity for the disabled, the UK-based Leonard Cheshire Disability.
Among the issues DHI highlights are Pakistan's blasphemy laws: Nirj Deva has called for them to be scrapped and for the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram to be formally declared a terrorist group. Lord Alton has called for an Independent Inquiry into Britain's Abortion Act and Nirj Deva is lobbying for a gestational time limit on abortions.
Currently DHI is celebrating what could be a landmark ruling for oppressed Christians by the European Court of Justice which said that people who are persecuted in their native countries due to their religion have the right to apply for asylum in Europe.
Confirming the ruling of a German court, the European Court of Justice - the highest court within the EU - decided that if a person's right to public worship was "gravely infringed" they should be granted asylum. Furthermore, the Court ruled that being limited to private prayer was not a legitimate alternative to the inherent right of public worship - rejecting the notion that religious minorities should limit their profile in the public sphere.
The case in question began when two Pakistanis of the Ahmadi denomination fled their homeland when faced with increasing threats and state repression.
Attention should now turn to other oppressed religious minorities within Pakistan and the wider area, in particular the beleaguered Christian communities, whose plight was recently highlighted by Lord Alton.
Following the court ruling, Lord Alton told DHI of the potential consequences: "For too long European nations have continued with a policy of apathy towards the persecution of Christian minorities in distant lands. However, with the possibility of religious communities now fleeing to Europe for asylum, Western governments may finally be spurred into tackling the root cause.
"While the question of asylum is a matter that should be properly handled by sovereign national governments (not least because of the additional load to the taxpayer), and not a panel of international unelected judges, the ECJ should be congratulated for recognising the importance of persecuted minorities - the figures of which are growing.
"We have already seen a trend of Christians being forced to flee their homelands. Over 100,000 Coptic Christians fled Egypt last year, while Iraq has seen its own Christian population decrease from 1.4 million in 1987 to fewer than 150,000 today. In addition, the continued violence in Syria is beginning to turn Christian populations away from the Levant.
"I would encourage all European governments to recognise that the consequences of inaction are no longer limited to the villages of Pakistan or the streets of Cairo. Failure to act now will result in a greater burden of responsibility for us all further in the future."
Acknowledgment: Some of the information in this article was sourced from the website of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute.