Religious intolerance claimed in cow dispute

News Staff Reporter

Four cows are causing a herd of problems in the Allegany County Village of Angelica.

Steven Voith, who says the cows are an integral part of his family's adherence to Hare Krishna beliefs, keeps the animals on a 31/2-acre property along the village's Main Street.

He said the village is persecuting him because of his religion and said the actions violate his right to practice his faith.

"In fact, we feel that we're being persecuted out of town," Voith said in an interview.

But Angelica officials say neighbors have complained of noise and odors from the cattle, and they've taken him to court for violating a law that bars farm animals within village limits.

Monday night, village officials voted for a second time against giving Voith and his family a permit that would allow them to keep the cows on their property.

The Village Board's 4-1 vote against Voith came after Village Attorney David Pullen gave an opinion stating Voith's religious and property rights were not an issue in this case, Angelica Mayor Peter T. Johnson said.

"This is not a religious or land-use issue. It's a public health and safety issue," Johnson said.

The Village Board also voted to give Voith 20 days to find a suitable home, outside the village limits, for the cows, he said.

Pullen's opinion came in response to a filing made with the village by Voith's Syracuse lawyer, Steve Clar, who asked them to reconsider their denial of a permit for Voith. The village initially denied the permit last summer, Johnson said.

Voith was convicted in Village Court of violating the village's farm-animal ordinance.

He must file his appeal by Jan. 25. County Judge Judith E. Samber ordered that Voith be allowed to keep the animals in town pending the appeal.

Voith said he has been persecuted by the village for keeping his cows and occasionally leading them off his property for religious processions.

Half a dozen other families keep farm animals on their land, and they weren't required to obtain permits to keep the animals, according to Voith.

Voith said he has reported incidents of harassment to the village police, Allegany County Sheriff's Department, county district attorney's office, state attorney general's office - even the FBI - to no avail.

He said the New York Civil Liberties Union is interested in his claims of religious intolerance and is following his situation.

Johnson said village officials have treated Voith fairly and said that as far as he knows, Voith has not filed criminal charges in any of the alleged incidents.

Allegany Correspondent Bob Weigand contributed to this report.