State Department Defends Jay Leno's Joke on Mitt Romney and India's Golden Temple Holy Shrine

9:36 AM PST 01/24/2012 by Erin Carlson
Angela Weiss/Getty Images

"I hope (Leno will) 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," said spokesperson Victoria Nuland of the outrage over the talk-show host's quip suggesting the Sikhs' holiest shrine as a possible summer home for the Republican presidential contender.

Jay Leno provoked anger and harsh criticism over a late-night joke in which he referred to the Harmandir Sahib or Golden Temple -- the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in the North Indian city of Amritsar -- as fancy vacation digs for Mitt Romney, the wealthy GOP candidate and former businessman.

On Monday, India's minister for NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) Vayalar Ravi, was quoted in media reports as saying: "It is quite unfortunate and quite objectionable that such a comment has been made after showing the Golden Temple." Backlash within the Sikh community included a "Boycott Jay Leno” Facebook page, and Ravi vowed to take up the issue with the U.S. State Department.

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Meanwhile, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland rallied to Leno's defense, invoking the First Amendment.

"I hope [Leno will] 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," Nuland said, noting that President Obama held a birthday celebration for Sikhism founder Guru Nanak at the White House.

Nuland told BBC News that U.S. and Indian authorities had not yet spoken about The Tonight Show host's remarks on the Jan. 19 episode.

"Our view is obviously that Sikh Americans have contributed greatly to the United States," she said.

A representative for Leno did not immediately respond to THR's request for comment.

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