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American Hindu couple face intolerance

An American Hindu couple in a village near New York is fighting for their religious rights over treatment of cows on their farm.

world Updated: Jan 15, 2006 14:37 IST

An American Hindu couple in a village near New York is fighting for their religious rights over treatment of cows on their farm.

Linda and Stephen Voith, followers of the Hindu bhakti tradition, made Angelica, the picturesque village in western New York, their home, intending to follow a Brahmanical way of life, protecting the cows they owned and treating them as they would fellow humans. However, their neighbours, finding this a ludicrous situation, decided the cows wouldn't stay.

The family's attorney, Ross Scott said that the Voiths were denied due process and their right to a fair trial in 2003 when the state Supreme Court Judge Michael Nenno refused to allow them a first amendment defence and dismissed the family's claims that the village deprived them of religious rights. The judge did not allow even a mention of the word religion at the hearing.

"The village of Angelica has no objection when the Amish (a religious sect) are going through the town on their buggies or tying up their horses and stopping, but the Voiths were harassed for their oxen cart crossing a 10-foot lane," said Scott.

Local law says that if "your property comprises 10 acres or more, you can have as many farm animals as you like". Scott stands as pro bono lawyer since he believes that the values that he had helped to defend from foreign enemies were at risk within home.

For the Voiths, this is a battle for their religious rights, not just a reassertion of their compliance with local laws. Believing their practice was only meant to show a "humane, responsible example of cow protection", Steven Voith said, "The village allows a beef farm to operate right across the street from our home. If they allow cows for secular reasons within the village, they should allow religiously revered cows too."

Incidentally, the village had been a contentious battlefield even earlier for religious groups such as the Amish, the Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses.