Gingrich decries 'antireligious bias'

LYNCHBURG, Va. - Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich decried a "growing culture of radical secularism" yesterday as he lionized the life of Liberty University's late founder, Jerry Falwell, in an address to the school's 2007 graduating class.

In a speech heavy on religious allusions but devoid of hints about his presidential ambitions, Gingrich drew applause from the graduates and their families in the school's 12,000-seat football stadium when he demanded that "this antireligious bias must end."

"In hostility to American history, the radical secularists insist that religious belief is inherently divisive," Gingrich said, deriding what he called the "contorted logic" and "false principles" of secular advocates in American society.

Gingrich was invited to be the school's commencement speaker before Falwell's unexpected death last week. The former Georgia lawmaker has said he will decide about running for president in September. - Washington Post

Weather service losing two leaders

WASHINGTON - One day after its hurricane forecasters complained of budget cuts, the head of the National Weather Service and his deputy announced they would retire next month.

David Johnson, the director, and John Jones, the deputy director, plan to bow out at the end of June, according to an internal memo they sent Friday to staff of the nation's weather agency.

On Thursday, Bill Proenza, the director of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center, which is part of the weather service, said he believed the government was wasting millions of dollars on advertising while shortchanging his hurricane forecasters' budget. - AP

R.I. man arrested in extortion effort

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - A man tried to extort $25,000 from a gas station owner by claiming he was a federal agent who had information linking the businessman to al-Qaeda and threatening to jail him, prosecutors say.

George Tabora, 44, was charged with attempted extortion and impersonating a federal officer. He has been held since his arrest on Wednesday.

The gas station owner, an unidentified man of Middle Eastern descent, told police this month that he had received a phone call from a man who claimed to be a Homeland Security official. The caller threatened to jail him and "go after" his wife and daughters unless he paid $25,000, according to court records. - AP

Elsewhere:

Two New York City police officers were arrested in Rutherford, N.J., on Friday, accused of trying to steal drugs and money from a suspected drug dealer. Hector Alvarez and Miguel Castillo, both 28, were being held under $1 million bail each.

Two climbers died after a 1,900-foot fall during a descent of Mount McKinley in Alaska, officials said Friday. Killed were Mizuki Takahashi, 36, of Lake Forest Park, Wash., and Brian Massey, 27, of North Bend, Wash.