Exclusion of Holy Cows from Alleghany Village
BY: JYOTIRMOY DATTA
The Voiths, with calves Radhe and Shyama
Feb 16, ANGELICA, NY (DESI TALK) Hidden from the outside world by the Alleghany Mountains, the picturesque Village of Angelica in western New York is the scene of a test of American's traditional religious tolerance, a test reminiscent of the earlier struggles of religious groups such as the Amish, the Mormons and Jehova's Witnesses to find a place in the nation's multifaith quilt.
Elevations range to over 2,000 feet in the hills that surround Angelica and feed a stream that makes its way past the village to the nearby Genesee River.
Attracted by its charms, American Hindu couple Linda and Stephen Voith chose to make it their home, complete with their children and their hooved family members - the cows, Chintamani, Radhe, Shyam, et al, named after characters of Hindu song and legend.
Stephen and Linda Voith and their children are followers of the Bhakti Hindu Tradition brought to America by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami, Prabhupada in 1965.
Srila Prabhupada instructed his followers to find ways and means to inaugurate the Hindu tradition of protecting cows in America, because without protection of the cow, Brahminical culture cannot be maintained.
Their neighbors, however, were taken aback by their treatment of the animals, whom the Voiths treated as if they were on the same footing as humans. The Village got an injunction expelling Chintamani and her brood from Angelica.
The family's attorney, Ross Scott, told Desi Talk that the Voiths were denied Due Process and their right to a fair trial in 2003 when State Supreme Court Judge Michael Nenno refused to allow them to raise a First Amendment defense and dismissed the family's counterclaims against the Village for deprivation of religious rights.
Scott, 68, an attorney who had worked for the government as a defense analyst till his retirement 11 years ago, said that he was appearing for the Voiths pro bono because he felt that the values that he had helped to defend from foreign enemies were at risk from insidious enemies at home. The judge did not allow even the mention of the word religion at the hearing on May 2 and 7, 2003. Judge Nenno said "if he heard one word about religion, he will hold be in contempt of court."
"The Village of Angelica has no objection to the Amish going through the town on their buggies, or tying up their horses and stopping, but the Voiths were harassed for their oxen cart crossing a 10-foot lane," Scott said. "The former mayor, among others, seemed intent on running the Voiths out of the village for just their odd way of treating their animals."
Scott said that they filed an appeal with the State Supreme Court, Appelate Division, in Rochester. His main brief had been filed on Dec. 16, the Village brief on Dec. 20, and his answering brief has tobe filed by Jan. 25.
The opening oral hearing was set for April 3. He was convinced of winning the appeal because the Voiths were "well within the local law which says that if your property comprises 10 acres or more, you can have as many farm animals as you like."
The Voiths, however, were regarding their appeal as a return to battle for their religious rights, not just a reassertion of their compliance with local laws. "We are trying to show an example of a simple Vedic lifestyle centering on nonviolence and the sanctity of all life," Linda Voith, told Desi Talk. "Our practices are meant to show a humane, responsible example of cow protection."
"The Village allows a beef farm to operate right across the street from our home," says Steven Voith, "If they allow cows for secular reasons within the Village, they should allow religiously revered cows too."
Chintamani, the Voiths's mother Jersey cow, came from an organic dairy near Ithaca NY. The Voiths say on their Website: ''She was pregnant when we bought her in 1999, and the next spring, she gave birth to the twins, Radhe and Shyama. We boarded her for 19 months at the beef farm that is across from our home. During her stay at the farm, she was bred by one of the farmer's bulls, and that is how we came to get Bheema, who is black and fuzzy, resembling a teddy bear when he wears his red halter. The most recent addition to our cow family is Krishna Preeya, Chintamani's latest calf, who is a plush, brown, Highlander/Jersey mix. We also have one goat named Roy, who was given to our daughter Kaitlin on her birthday, by a local woman who raises dairy goats.''
Stephen has been to India several times, and has two adopted children from Bengal, Christopher and Samantha. Linda has been trained as a Compost Educator, by Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ithaca NY, and is currently working towards a certification in The Bridge and Target Animal Training System, while training the family's cows and oxen.