It's been said that as long as there have been tests in schools, there will be prayer in school. Soon, it may also be in school board meetings.

Hesperia Unified School District board member Anthony Riley took the lead in advocating that the board open with a religious invocation at the board's May 18 meeting.

"They do it at the county level, they do it at the city level, they do it at the state," said Riley, who works for Supervisor Gary Ovitt. "We're also talking about equal representation, whether it's someone from a Baptist church ... or a Jewish rabbi may come up. We do that at the county level, and quite frankly, it works extremely well, because that way we have all aspects of the community represented."

Although board members had previously sought legal opinions on adding an invocation to meetings as far back as 2007, Riley said he started thinking about the issue shortly after being elected last November.

"This is something I had mentioned to our superintendent back in December," he said. "It was odd to me that we didn't open up our meetings with a flag salute and a moment of silence."

(The Pledge of Allegiance, which is accompanied by a JROTC honor guard at least one meeting of the month throughout the school year, has long been a staple of school board meetings.)

Board members Robert Kirk and Lee Rogers also expressed their support for the idea at the board's last meeting. A formal vote on the issue is expected at the board's June 8 meeting.

The lone voice of opposition to the idea was board member Chris Bentley.

"My concern is, as usual, process, [getting] the cart before the horse," he said Friday. "I'm not anti-invocation. I'm, in my opinion, trying to look out for the school district."

Specifically, he's worried that the board may either open itself up to a lawsuit by excluding some religious groups, or that the board will have no control over who's allowed to speak.

"You cannot have an invocation that expresses a preference for one religious faith over another," he said. "What if a Wiccan comes up and give a Wiccan invocation? ... [Alternately,] they could go down a path to where there's nothing but a Christian denomination giving a Christian prayer."

The Hesperia City Council opens its meetings with invocations, and those saying the opening prayer tend to share a fairly similar religious worldview. The nine meetings held so far in 2009 have had invocations from the clergy of five different houses of worship: Hesperia Church of Nazarene, New Life Chapel, First Baptist Church, River of Life Church, High Desert Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Riley, aware of the possibility of legal complications, said he'd also be comfortable with the board merely adding a moment of silence at the opening of meetings.

"I'm not saying we should have prayer in schools," he said. "I'm saying we should have a moment of reflection before we open up business, just like in every other level of government."

"I'm good with a moment of silence," Bentley said. "The problem with an invocation is when you start invoking a specific entity."

The next meeting of the HUSD school board will be held on June 8, 2009, at 6 p.m. in the HUSD Educational Support Center Annex, 15576 Main Street.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.