Is this Angelica family the victim of religious persecution or are they
just having trouble getting along with their neighbours?
ANGELICA—As members of the Krishna Consciousness Movement, the Voith family feels persecuted by some Angelica neighbours because of their faith. Stephen, Linda, Gloria, Kaitlin, and Jason Voith pose near their garden.
by Cindy White
ANGELICA—The motto of Angelica is “a town where history lives”. Main Street is lined with quaint little stores and antique shops. The post office is a common place to meet your neighbors and people are friendly (for the most part).
Yet, there are some people who might say Angelica is a town where intolerance lives.
Stephen and Linda Voith have lived on Main Street for 2 years. Their home is the one with the posters on the front lawn and a broken window above their door (from a rock that was thrown at the house). The Voiths are members of the Krishna Consciousness Movement, also called “Hare Krishnas.” They explain that they are followers of A.C. Bhaktivedante Swami Prabhupada, the Indian guru who brought the Krishna movement to the United States in 1966. Stephen and Linda Voith say they only want to live in peace and practice their faith.
PERMITS FOR CATTLE
One aspect of their faith that has been questioned by a few neighbors and the village board is the Krishna practice of cow protection. The Voiths currently board their cattle at a neighbor's farm. They are yoke-training their cows to work as oxen and would like to bring them to a small open field located behind their home to be trained. The piece of land they want to use is secluded, not visible from Main Street, and has access from High Street, where a farm is located.
Village law allows farm animals on parcels within the village with 10 acres or more. They also allow farm animals on smaller lots within the village by permit. Signatures of neighbors adjoining the lot are required to complete the permit. Some of the Voiths neighbors have agreed to allow the cows. Others will not agree and so the required permit has not been filed. The Voiths do not think of their cows as farm animals. They say they have no plans to exploit their animals, but rather consider them as pets.
Mayor Peter Johnson says he believes the Voith family picked up a permit about a year ago. Mayor Johnson says the village is responding to a letter from the Voiths through their attorney, Tom Brown of Cuba.
INTOLERANCE, HARASSMENT, AND PROPERTY DAMAGE
The Voiths claim they have been harassed by people intolerant to their lifestyle and religion. They told stories of a neighbor charging at them on his ATV (all- terrain vehicle) while they were crossing the road with their animals in yoke. They say that a “vigilante terrorist” claimed that the town was behind him. The Voiths also say influential local people have told them, “We don't like your kind.”
Angelica recently put in water meters, which were a prerequisite for federal funding. The Voiths had been pumping water out of an unmetered pump located in a neighbor's field. They were not the only people using this pump. After a neighbor complained about them, the water to the pump was shut off.
A complaint was made about the smell of manure from their cows. Linda Voith has successfully completed the master composter program at Cornell Cooperative Extension where she says she learned how to compost manure with no smell.
Child protective services were recently called to the Voith home because of claims that their children were being starved by the vegetarian lifestyle. The Voith children were subjected to the intolerance. The service worker found no justification to the claim, the Voiths say.
When a rock was thrown through the Voiths' window on June 26th, they called the state police. They say the police told them that they had made themselves a target because of the posters in front of their home. The Voiths put the posters up in the last month after the harassment of their faith and lifestyle began. Two youths have been implicated in the rock throwing incident.
Stephen Voith claims that his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 are being violated, as well as his first amendment rights to free speech.
“The government wants to usurp our rights to practice religious expression”, said Stephen Voith.
“It's not possible to take cow protection out of Krishna Consciousness”, said Linda Voith. They consider the cow and bull to be sacred because of their valuable service. They do not worship the animals. Stephen Voith describes Hare Krishnas as a vulnerable, unpopular, religious minority.
The Voith family says they've been told that if they bring the animals over to their lot for yoke training, it would be considered as harboring an illegal animal. They claim that other families on High Street have goats and chickens.
Stephen Voith has suggested that using animals to pull wagons and sleds could be good for the community. They have likened themselves to the Amish who use horses. They thought historic Angelica would be a good place to live and share with the community.
Stephen Voith is a man of principle who exposed cow abuse and other crimes in 1991 at a Krishna Farm where he lived. This made him unpopular among some Krishna followers.
He claims the federal law regarding religious use supersedes the local law, and he plans to challenge what he calls “government tyranny” if need be. He says the Krishna movement has historically employed the use of civil disobedience at times when religious expression has been threatened.