The Hesperia Unified School District won't be opening school board meetings with a prayer in the immediate future.


The idea of adding an invocation to school board meetings dates back years, but was only aggressively pursued starting in 2009, when school board member Anthony Riley took up the cause. The idea was approved by the board in June, but never put into action, while the board considered exactly what way to conduct an invocation.


In July, the conservative Christian non-profit Alliance Defend Fund sent the district a legal opinion on the legality of government agencies holding invocations and included their template for an invocation process that would pass legal muster.


Much of the ADF's argument hinges on a 1983 Supreme Court case, Marsh v. Chambers, in which the court upheld that government funding for chaplains was constitutional because of the "unique history" of the United States.


Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union sent the district a legal opinion of their own, attacking the ADF's letter, and cited a 1999 U.S. circuit court case, Coles v. Cleveland School Board, which stated that school boards are not just like any other governmental body, but instead have to be considered to be part of the public schools they govern, and thus an invocation would run afoul of court decisions banning official prayer in school.


The ACLU warned the district would face "a strong likelihood of being sued" if it went ahead with the ADF's proposed invocation policy, with potential plaintiff's attorney fees in the hundreds of thousands of dollars if the district lost.


On Monday night, the HUSD school board was scheduled to vote on the invocation policy -- and blinked.


Before the board began discussing the issue, Riley asked the board to pull the invocation-related items from the agenda, pending further consultation with HUSD lawyer Dennis Wagner.


"Initially, Dennis and his law firm," Wagner & Pelayes, "put forward an invocation that should past muster," Riley said Tuesday, "Because there are districts across the nation that kick off their meetings with a non-sectarian invocation and a flag salute."


The Wagner & Pelayes version of the invocation was non-sectarian and "watered-down," compared to the ADF proposal, Riley said.


"I think the ACLU's major issue is with the Alliance Defense Fund, their version of the invocation [policy]," he said. "We'll let the dust settle on this particular issue ... Obviously, we have other pressing issues to deal with."


The next regular meeting of the HUSD school board will be held on Feb. 8 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. Follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/HesperiaStar.