Hindu Organizations Back Couple’s Fight to Shelter Cows

TAMPA, Fl (May 3, 2006) – The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court ruled on April 28, 2006 that Stephen and Linda Voith would not be able to keep cows in their private property in the village of Angelica in New York. On April 2, 2006, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), along with other Hindu, Jain and religious freedom groups, filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the 4th Department Appellate Court expressing concern that local laws were being misused to unfairly discriminate against the couple who harbored the cattle for religious purposes.

The couple has kept the cows in accordance with the Hindu belief of goraksha (cow protection) and for a religious procession known as a padayatra. In traditional Hindu society, bovines are kept on private property only for agrarian purposes. Cows which are used for religious ceremonies are housed in special constructed goshalas or cow protection shelters.

The Voiths, who first moved into village located in the foothills of the Appalachian foothills in 1999, have been fighting local officials for the past seven years to raise cows on their private property. Officials ordered the couple to expel the cows from their land citing a 1986 ordinance disallowing cattle on lots which are less than 10 acres in size. The couple kept their cow, Chintamani, on a nearby farm but later moved her and her calves to their property in 2001. In addition, they also leased an additional twelve acres to comply with the law. However, despite their attempts, village officials denied their application for a permit.

“Our neighbor runs a beef farm behind our house. He is allowed to raise beef cows and billy goats on a one acre parcel right next to our property," says Stephen Voith, "Only our cows have been banned."

The Voiths then took the issue to court. During their trial at the County Court level, the couple was not allowed to testify, or to bring up First Amendment religious rights issues and the case was ruled that it "has nothing to do with religion.” After the verdict was challenged, on April 28, 2006, the appeals court ruled that “contrary to the contention of defendants, neither their leasing of the 12 acre noncontiguous parcel nor their regard of their animals as their companions or pets brings them into compliance with the ordinance".

“The purpose of HAF's efforts in these proceedings was to ensure true religious freedom for all faiths, including Hinduism,” said Nikhil Joshi, Esq, member of the Hindu American Foundation Board of Directors. “The governmental restrictions that have severely limited the Voiths' right to foster and protect their cows casts an unconstitutional prophylactic blanket upon the Voiths' ability to espouse freely their religious beliefs."

The Hindu American Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3), non-partisan organization, promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism.