Voiths lose appeal in
'Holy Cow' case
BY: GEORGE JOSEPH
May 18, ANGELICA, NEW YORK (SUN) — Stephen Voith and his wife Linda were neither surprised, nor disappointed, when the 4th Department Appellate Court in Rochester, New York, rejected their appeal to keep cows on their property.
The appellate court agreed with the lower court in Allegany County, which had earlier ruled that the case 'has nothing to do with religion.' The Voiths, followers of the Bhakti tradition of Hinduism, had appealed the 2003 court injunction expelling their cows from their property in Angelica village in New York, saying that protection of cows is part of their religion.
Several Hindu religious organizations had filed an 'amicus curie' (friends of the court) brief with the Appellate Court in support of the Voiths. "The judges and the whole system is part of the conspiracy against 'mother cow and father bull of humanity.' The forces against the spread of Vedic culture and Santana dharma are united in the fight," Stephen Voith told India Abroad, after the verdict.
"It is an international story where a tiny, bigoted village and its local law is allowed by the American judicial system to trump the US Constitution and the First Amendment.
"The beef industry is a business involving many billions. Protecting and honoring cows would spread goodness and tranquility in American society, since kindness to animals engenders kindness amongst humans - the converse to the adage that violence to poor animals leads to violence within human society," Voith said. Commenting on the verdict, Voith said "We feel we have been treated like 'enemy combatants' in the court system, because we never had the right to testify in the earlier trial and now the Appellate Court has affirmed the right of the trial court to fully gag us, prevent us American Due Process, and then uphold the injunction."
While ruling on the appeal, the court said 'We note in any event that defendants fail in their brief on appeal to identify any pertinent evidence that might have been adduced had their attorney sought to elicit further testimony from defendants or their witnesses.'
Voith said the Amicus Brief was that evidence, which the court totally ignored. "But we are still very pleased with the results in our case, because the demonic leaders, by opposing Srila Prabhupada's authentic Vedic Cultural Renaissance, are only making it more widely known and popular."
He said he has not decided about appealing the verdict. "There is a move to make a compromise with the village. Our attorney is speaking to the village attorney to prevent further court battles."
Stephen said if some of his cows are allowed on his property, he would be satisfied. "Only a few neighbors have objection to that. A meeting of the whole village could be held to discuss the issue," he said.
Raymond W Bulson, the attorney appearing on behalf of the village, told the New York Times that the law does not single out any religion, and described the dispute as a quality-of-life matter.
'You move to a village because you want the amenities. If you move there to have those amenities, you don't want a cow next door. I'm sure their religious beliefs are sincere, but that was never an issue.
'The Appellate Division said there's no religious argument, and I think that's true. That doesn't mean there aren't religious bigots in Angelica. I'm sure there are. But the government never once said to me, 'Get them out because we hate their religion,' Bulson said.
Stephen questions the argument of 'quality of life.' "Their quality is that ignorance is bliss. Why? Because none of these individual neighbors mind in the least that beef cows are next door, or adjacent their property; nor billy goats and dairy goats."
Community activist Nitin Talsania, leader of the Jain Association that filed the Amicus brief, termed the judgment unfair. "Once again, the powerful locals have been able to influence this case unjustly against the Voiths. The court didn't even look at the Amicus brief our organizations submitted. It is as if they had predetermined that nothing else was relevant and was going to matter in any way. This is a lesson for all of us to be aware, alert and vigilant about such injustices sneaking in from time to time."
"Knowing the Voiths, I don't think that despite financial and personal challenges, they are likely to give up at this critical juncture. If I have to predict, the case will end up in the country's Supreme Court, where they will get a fair trial and end up winning ultimately," Talsania said. "This is already creating a stir in the Hindu community all over the world. It is becoming a rallying point for the community, and for organizations that support the religious rights of minorities."
The Voiths had purchased a two and a half acre property in Angelica in 1994, and moved there with their cows to operate a Vedic Cow Protection and Agricultural Center. The village has a law which says that the owner should have at least 10 acres of land on which farm animals can graze. To overcome this, the Voiths leased 12 acres of land across the street. However, the village objected, on the grounds that the land was not adjacent their own property.
The village then sued; the Voiths countered by stating that sheltering cows was part of their religious belief. Currently, pending a favorable end to the dispute, the Voiths keep their cows at another location, far removed from their home, and make the trek daily to tend to them.