Krishna followers in Angelica seek variance for their oxen

By Jeanne Massey
The Spectator, June 17, 2001

Angelica - Three cows are causing problems for an Angelica family.

Stephen and Linda Voith own a long lot in the village that extends up the hill behind their house and flattens out into a large area beside a farm field. They want to keep their cows on that land, but the Village has an ordinance, which prohibits farm animals without a permit. 

For now, the Voith’s board their cows at the farm that abuts their field. They are seeking a variance to allow them to bring their cows home.

" 'Farm animals' doesn't describe what we're doing, because 'farm animals' denotes exploitation," Stephen Voith says.

Dairy and beef farming eventually lead to the death of the animals, he says. When dairy cows are no longer productive, they're sold for meat. Male calves are steered and grown for meat. The Voith’s don't want to
farm; they want to practice cow and ox protection, an important part of their religious belief.

According to our scripture," says Stephen Voith, "they're the Lord's cows, Krishna paraphernalia. For us, the cow is the mother and the bull is the father, so in that sense, we revere the cow and the bull and we
don't bring them to slaughter. We're preparing our land to bring our cows over so we can, in fact, practice what we preach. We're doing this on the order of our spiritual master and the scriptures, the
Bhagavad-gita (the Song of God)."

The Voith’s are devotees of Krishna Consciousness, popularly known as the Hare Krishna Movement. Some members of the community don't quite know what to make of them; that's understandable, Stephen Voith says, given the bad publicity the movement has had in the past.

"When people are confronted with the unknown," he says, "they sometimes act in a somewhat irrational way, or they get angry."

The Voith’s follow the teachings of Srila Prabhupada, an Indian holy man who came to the U.S. in 1965 and began chanting "Hare Krsna," the names of God, in public places. He also was a scholar of the ancient Hindu texts, translating them and writing commentaries on them.

When Prabhupada passed away, false gurus took his place, says Stephen Voith, who adds they were not the self realized, dedicated teacher Prabhupada was, but were more concerned about money and power. It was the misdeeds of these men that attracted negative press in the United States, and most people thought of the Hare Krishna’s as a cult. Some of the movement's activities were bad, he admits, but the underlying truth and Prabhupada's teachings were good.

The Voith's have distanced them selves from the official Krishna organization, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, because of what they see as abuse of power by its leaders. They practice only the teachings of Prabhupada and keep in touch with a network of others throughout the country that believes as they do.

Their concern for cows is part of that practice. Linda Voith says they have two goals for their cows. The first is "to bring the cow over (to their property) so we don't have to worry that she's going to be bred
every year (by the neighbor's bull)."

The second goal is to make their calves valuable by training them. She said the female calf is a "freemartin," a sterile cow, and the male has been neutered. "Neither one of those animals would be valuable to someone who's in the dairy industry and they would be sent to slaughter,
so we have to find a way to protect them.  If we train them, we make them valuable."

They can picture the calves pulling an ox cart through the streets of Angelica during Heritage Days. They are thrilled Angelica takes such pride in its heritage, and they want to be part of that. But in order to
do so, the oxen need training.

We have to have facilities available to be able to train the calves, says Linda Voith. In order to go in a parade or give cart rides, or even to safely transport something along the street , we need a safe environment to train them in.... The Amish would have to do that with their young horses. We're really surprised to be receiving so much resistance. Perhaps people aren't aware of what we're doing, or why it's so important to us."

"Wouldn't that be a quaint addition to a town, which advertises... 'a town where history lives'?
Imagine parked in the Circle this very beautiful team of oxen with their horns painted gold and a necklace, something that they do in India," says Stephen Voith.

The Voith’s have invited the community to an open house at 152 W. Main St. from 2-5 p.m. today to get acquainted with them and to discuss issues of religious freedom.