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Religious wars brewing in ICANN gTLD expansion

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Religious convictions are emerging as the key battle line in the massive domain name expansion currently in progress at internet addressing overlord ICANN.

Morality in Media, a largely Christian, US-based anti-pornography group, has become the first religious organisation to kick off a formal campaign against what it seems a “harmful” porn-themed new generic top-level domains.

Muslim and Catholic groups have also started to complain about proposed gTLDs that purport to represent key elements of Islam and Catholicism.

Morality in Media this week asked its membership to write to ICANN to complain about .sex, .porn and .adult, which have all been applied for by ICM Registry, manager of the still-controversial .xxx gTLD. So far, dozens of members have responded by filing objections.

ICANN is currently allowing anyone to freely file comments of support for or objection to any of the 1,930 new gTLD applications it has received. A formal objections process, with and attached filing fee, will open at a later date.

“Pornography’s inherent objectification of women and children for sexual pleasure has been proven to rewire the brain, and ultimately tears at the world’s social fabric by defining down what is decent and right in our culture,” Patrick Trueman, Morality in Media's president, wrote.

“[P]orn sites on the .com domain have not vacated the .com and moved to .xxx,” he added. “Rather, as we have seen, the .xxx has just added thousand of additional porn sites on the internet and .com porn sites [have] stayed put.”

ICM Registry's .xxx domain launched officially last December and has since racked up about 220,000 registrations, about 30 per cent of which were defensively registered under protest by trademark owners during its launch phase.

Morality in Media, which conducted letter-writing campaigns against .xxx before it was approved last year, points to this “protection money” as another reason .sex, .porn and .adult should not be approved.

However, ICM's gTLD applications state that anyone who has already registered a name in .xxx will automatically have that same string registry-reserved in the three proposed gTLDs for free, eliminating the need for further defensive registrations.

ICANN has also received scores of comments about religion-themed gTLD applications.

A Turkish company, Asia Green IT System, has applied for .islam, .halal, and .shia, among other strings, and has already attracted a handful of objections.

“[A]s a Muslim, I can not see the new gTLD (.islam) be under the control of a private sector that does not represent the whole Muslim community. The current applicant clearly can not demonstrate that it has an ongoing relationship with the whole Muslim community,” one commenter wrote.

The application for .catholic by the Vatican's official PR agency is also beginning to attract attention.

“Catholic Christians include Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Methodists and many other groups – not just 'Roman Catholics'. This request is a move by a powerful group to try to squelch the voices and rights of other Christians,” one commenter wrote.

Other applications for religious strings have received more comments of support than dissent, so far.

The Life Covenant Church (LifeChurch.tv) application for .church seems to be supported by many of the 46,000-strong congregation, though it has received some objections too. So far, the American Bible Society's application for .bible has only received positive comments and its Independent Objector.

An application for .kosher by the OK Kosher Certification programme has received no comments so far. Neither have the applications for .christmas or .mormon.

ICANN plans to keep its comment system open for several months. However, only comments submitted prior to 12 August are guaranteed to be forwarded to the new gTLD programme's outside evaluators. ®

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