Jay Leno has been sued for what it calls “racist” comments on the Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple of Amritsar.
Indian-American Randeep Dhillon says Jay Leno “hurt the sentiments of all Sikh people in addition to the plaintiff”.
A recent Jay Leno skit showed the shrine as the summer home of Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney has faced questions over his wealth and Sikhs are angry the temple was shown as a place for the rich.
An Indian minister called Jay Leno’s comments “objectionable” and said “freedom does not mean hurting the sentiments of others”.
But US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US Constitution strictly protected freedom of speech.
Randeep Dhillon filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, seeking unspecified damages.
Jay Leno’s joke “clearly exposes plaintiff, other Sikhs and their religion to hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy because it falsely portrays the holiest place in the Sikh religion as a vacation resort owned by a non-Sikh”, Randeep Dhillon said in his petition.
Earlier, a US Sikh group launched an online petition over Jay Leno’s comment, also accusing the comedian of making previous derogatory remarks about Sikhs.
Some Sikhs also demanded action against the NBC channel for airing the “racist and derogatory” depiction of the Golden Temple.
Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi joined the protest, saying: “It is quite unfortunate and quite objectionable that such a comment has been made after showing the Golden Temple.”
Victoria Nuland said: “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.”
She said the US had “absolute respect” for all Indians, including Sikhs, and that “President Barack Obama was the first president to celebrate the birthday of the religion’s founder, Guru Nanak, at the White House.”
Jay Leno has not yet commented on the matter.