USA

Members of Congress say North Korea's nuclear threats are escalating toward a crisis that requires the Bush administration to at least open a dialogue with that country without making any promises. Legislators from both parties weighed in on the issue on CNN's "Late Edition" program Sunday, hours before a senior American diplomat said in Seoul that the US is willing to consider energy aid for North Korea if it halts its nuclear weapons program.

Declaring he is "ready to lead," Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut announced he will seek the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2004. Lieberman, former Vice President Gore's running mate in the 2000 race, made the announcement at his former high school in Stamford, Conn. He joins a growing field that includes US Rep. Richard Gephardt of of Missouri, Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, John Edwards of North Carolina, and Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the families of two students slain in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. They had argued that school officials violated their free speech rights by refusing to display ceramic tiles inscribed with religious messages in a memorial on campus. The justices let stand a US appeals court ruling that the ban on religious symbols was reasonably related to the legitimate goal of officials to prevent disruptive religious debate on the school's walls.

The high court also turned away a Texas lawyer who wants to advise terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, rejecting a request to file a Supreme Court appeal without the usual filing fees and printing costs. Moussaoui, the only person charged in the US with conspiring in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is acting as his own lawyer in a federal case scheduled for trial this summer. Moussaoui has asked the court to allow a Muslim lawyer, Charles Freeman, to advise him without formally entering the case.

The constitutional separation of church and state has been misinterpreted both by the Supreme Court and lower courts, Justice Antonin Scalia said Sunday at a Religious Freedom Day event in Fredericksburg, Va. He pointed to a ruling last year in California that barred students from saying the Pledge of Allegiance with the phrase "one nation under God." That appeals court decision is on hold pending further consideration by the same court, but it may come before the Supreme Court.

Pending a last-minute plea bargain, jury selection in the first espionage trial in nearly 50 years that could end in the death penalty was due to begin in Alexandria, Va., Monday. Brian Patrick Regan, a retired Air Force master sergeant, stands accused of offering satellite secrets to Iraq and other countries for more than $13 million in Swiss currency. Although a plea arrangement was possible, legal experts said they doubted the government would agree to a deal so near a trial's start. Jury selection is expected to last two weeks.

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