Meetings of the Hesperia Unified School District school board will be starting a little differently soon.

In addition to the presentation of the flag by one of the district's Junior ROTC programs, which is followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, soon school board meetings will begin with an invocation -- a prayer by a local religious leader.

The board voted 4-1 to add invocations to their meetings at Monday night's school board meeting. Board member Chris Bentley voted against the measure, citing his concerns over the added legal risks created by adding prayer to the meetings.

Those offering prayers will have to sign a release indicating they will abide by certain rules. The main rule is laid out in the district's new Invocation Agreement: "Invocations shall not include a reference to any particular faith or belief, shall not denigrate any particular faith or belief, shall not contain any non-generic reference to God, and shall not promote one religion or set of beliefs over another."

"It's not sectarian," said board member Anthony Riley, who put the invocation on the agenda. "It follows every line [of the rules] in terms of non-sectarian government prayer."

As spelled out in the district's policy, that means there are a number of things that won't be heard in the invocations, so that the district won't be seen as preferring one religion over another. So the invocations will be somewhat generic, and won't have, as the policy reads in part, "references to a particular 'God' commonly identified or associated with one or more particular commonly recognized and organized religions, but not with all religions in general; and/or a reference to or a quotation from ... a Bible, scripture, treaties, history or religious writing identified or associated with one or more particular commonly recognized and organized religions, but not all religions in general."

The faithful are still free to offer such religion-specific sentiments during the public comment portion of school board meetings, however.

"There is risk here," said Bentley. "School districts are very different from counties and very different from cities in what it is we do."

"I don't see any risk," said board member Robert Kirk, who had first solicited a legal opinion on adding invocations to school board meetings in 2007. "A [government] agency has every right to do this. It goes back to our founding fathers: Thomas Jefferson talked about it when he was in the Virginia legislature."

"I grew up praying in schools," said board vice-president Lee Rogers. "What we came to this country for was freedom of religion."

The district will assemble a list of approved religious speakers and invite people listed to offer the invocations. Failure to comply with the district's rules will mean removal from the list.

The district's liability, said HUSD attorney Dennis Wagner, comes in if the board does not enforce its rules evenly. So long as each person giving the invocation is held to the rules -- and excluded if they don't -- the district won't be exposed to any potential suits, he said.

"If we were in another part of this country, this wouldn't even be discussed," said Rogers. "It'd just be done."

The next meeting of the HUSD school board will be held on July 13 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.