WASHINGTON - The State Department stood up for a leading television comedian, Jay Leno, after the “Tonight Show” host angered the Sikh community with a joke that implied that the Golden Temple in Amritsar was a home owned by Mitt Romney, currently the richest candidate for Republican presidential nomination.
The segment, during Leno’s monologue on NBC, showed the homes of various Republican presidential hopefuls, but when Romney’s summer house on Lake Winnipesaukee was mentioned the screen showed the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which is holy to Sikhs.
Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, told her daily briefing that though United States and Indian officials had not communicated about the issue, the United States Constitution protected Leno’s freedom of speech.
Ms. Nuland said she hoped that Leno would “be appreciative if we make the point that his comments are constitutionally protected in the United States under free speech, and frankly, they appeared to be satirical in nature.” She added that “Sikh Americans have contributed greatly to the United States” and noted that President Barack Obama celebrated the birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, at the White House.
Neither Leno nor representatives for “The Tonight Show” have commented on the matter.
Meanwhile, a US based Sikh rights group has lodged a complaint with US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against the "objectionable depiction" of Golden Temple. (FCC regulates the broadcast of television programmes, analyzes the complaints and conducts investigations). “Sikhs For Justice” (SFJ) announced the holding of a protest rally on February two in front of NBC Headquarters in New York City demanding the sacking of Leno.