[Note: I am from the Philippines so I mention Filipinos here specifically. But even if you are from another country, please feel free to read on and comment. Thank you! =) ]
This is a phrase commonly mentioned especially in times like these when there are controversial bills, such as the Reproductive Health (RH) bill and Divorce bill, being pushed into law. I admit that it is a phrase I took for granted. I just accepted it and did not think much about it before. But recently, as I was (half-)listening to discussions on the AM radio, it's meaning dawned on me...
It can be argued that it is difficult to have this 'separation' because religion or one's beliefs is an integral part of each individual's life. This is true, I agree. But the thing is this:
While we are all Filipinos, and therefore all under the laws of our country, we do not all belong to one religion. Therefore, beliefs of one religion should not be imposed on all others.
Laws are more encompassing in the sense that they are meant to apply to all citizens. On the other hand, beliefs vary among religious groups, so each set of beliefs apply to specific groups.
The task of lawmakers is to make laws in such a way that they take into consideration the rights of all citizens, within bounds. Expectedly, this will result in bills which may partly be unacceptable to some. And I think this is where the task of religious leaders come in, not to vehemently oppose the passage of such laws, but to double their efforts in their duty to educate those who belong to their respective religious groups.
There are laws that only allow certain things and not require them. For instance, a law that allows the use of contraception does not mean everyone will be compelled to use them. It then falls into the hands of the religious leaders to educate their people whether they, as members of their religious group, should or should not use contraception. For these types of laws, the specifics need not be followed by those who think they are unacceptable, but the laws are still there for the benefit of those in other groups who think they are acceptable.
While answering comments, this post gave birth to a part 2. =P
It can be found here: Separation of Church and State, part 2