BARABOO — Women were not allowed to speak or vote Sunday as men from a Baraboo church voted to fire the principal of the church's elementary and middle school.
John Hartwig, principal of St. John's Lutheran School, was fired during a six-hour meeting attended by about 300 people. His suspension earlier this month sparked a public outcry from a group of parents that said he was being unfairly targeted.
Supporters of Hartwig said they were shocked to learn that women church members would not be permitted to speak during a meeting to decide Hartwig's fate.
"That was terrible," said Pete Klaetsch, who voted in support of Hartwig and says the controversy may divide the church.
Females do not have voting privileges, but are generally allowed to speak at meetings, according to Klaetsch. Sunday's meeting was the first time in recent history that St. John's Council President Don Finseth exercised his authority to prevent females from speaking, church members say.
Details of the principal's alleged wrongdoings are murky, and church leaders have been unwilling to be interviewed. In a letter to school parents announcing his suspension, church pastors said Hartwig had promoted materials that questioned the church's teachings and had engaged in conduct "unbecoming a called worker."
Hartwig's father, a former pastor, authored a document years ago questioning Lutheran doctrine that says women shall not have authority over men. Church members say Hartwig, who has been principal since the summer of 2003, was accused of distributing that document to some members of the congregation.
The Rev. Tom Fricke said in a written statement that Hartwig was "regretfully terminated" on doctrinal grounds after more than two years of discussions with church leaders in an effort to resolve the issues.
"While congregational leaders acknowledge Mr. Hartwig's fine administrative skills and recognize the personal admiration many parents have for him, our overriding concern is for maintaining sound biblical doctrine and practice," Fricke's said in a written statement.
Women who wanted to ask questions at the meeting were told to write them on a piece of paper and have a man read them aloud. But some, including Hartwig's own daughter, said their questions were never read.
"I actually passed three or four questions to a church council member and none of them were read," said Emily Rae Hartwig. "I guess the way I felt about it, and the way many others felt, was that they were afraid of us (women). A lot of my dad's supporters are women."