Stephen and Linda Voith are appealing a state Supreme Court decision that sided with Angelica officials who cited rules governing farm animals within village limits.
To the Voiths, members of the Krishna Consciousness branch of Hinduism, their six cows are not farm animals but part of the family and integral to the practice of their religion that protects and celebrates cows.
“As soon as we raised that (religion) issue, the judge shot us down,” said Stephen Voith, whose attorney filed a challenge to the ruling with the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Rochester Dec. 16.
“The judge was so totally bigoted against their religion …. he wouldn’t let them put their case on,” said attorney W. Ross Scott, who said he was not allowed to call witnesses or raise the Voiths’ spiritual beliefs.
Attorney Raymond Bulson, who is handling the case for the village, could not be reached Wednesday.
Stephen Voith said publicity surrounding his family’s plight has resulted in support from Hindus around the country concerned about religious freedom. One supporter built a Web site for the Voiths: www.nomoreinjustice.org.
During the earlier court proceedings, Angelica officials cited village ordinance which prohibits the keeping of farm animals without a permit unless the owner has at least 10 acres of land on which the animals can graze. The Voiths live on a 2.5-acre parcel but leased an additional 12 acres nearby.
Several neighbors called by the village as witnesses testified about the smell, manure and flies _ complaints the Voiths chalked up to religious intolerance. The practice of honoring cows and including them in religious ceremonies does not sit well in an agricultural area with beef and dairy farms, they said.
After losing their case, the Voiths and their animals moved to a cow sanctuary in Pennsylvania, where they remained for four months until moving back to New York state.
Since then, they have been boarding the cows with friends. The animals have stayed in five different places since 2003 and are currently in the Allegany County town of Ward, Voith said. The Voiths and their two children spend about three hours each day taking care of the animals, Voith said, including feeding and milking them and using an ax to break the ice on the creek from which they drink.