I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS….Yesterday’s Washington Post headline on a story about Judge Terrence Boyle’s confirmation hearing first caught my eye, then utterly confused me, and finally reminded me that I wanted to write about my latest pet peeve: the seemingly reckless way in which terms like ‘values’ and ‘religion’ and ‘morals’ are being tossed about in the press.

“Judges May Be Vetted for Mainstream Values.” What does that mean? That judges whose values the paper considers mainstream may be held up by liberals who object? Or that the standard to which judges will be held is that of mainstream values, and there are some extremist judges who may not pass? And what is ‘mainstream’, anyway? Unfortunately, a read through the article–a “he said/she said” Mad-Lib of a piece–doesn’t help at all.

The inaccurate and/or indiscriminate use of concepts and terms like “values” and “religion” without context is fast becoming my biggest pet peeve, and if I have to become a one-woman officiating squad, then so be it. A few weeks ago, Time magazine managed to raise my blood pressure with these parting sentences in an article about Democratic efforts to reach religious voters: “But the biggest risk for the party is to come off as insincere. Religious voters might like the music, but they’re unlikely to be seduced by it as long as Democrats stick to their core positions.” [my emphasis]

Yes, because Lord knows “religious voters” couldn’t possibly agree with any Democratic core positions. Good grief. You’ve heard me say it before, but apparently it needs repeating: A good many people are Democrats not despite their faith but precisely because of their faith. I don’t want to read “religious” when what you mean is “right-wing.” I don’t want to read “evangelical” when what you mean is “conservative evangelical.” And I don’t want to read “moral values” when what you’re really referring to are hot-button, right-wing sexual morality issues. The conflation of those terms with those specific definitions is NOT a neutral decision; it’s part of a very conscious strategy. It’s understandable that some news outlets have been taken in by the spin. Repeating the spin, however, is irresponsible.

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Amy Sullivan is a Chicago-based journalist who has written about religion, politics, and culture as a senior editor for Time, National Journal, and Yahoo. She was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2004 to 2006.