Sikhs Sue Leno Over Joke Involving Sacred Temple

This week’s most frivolous lawsuit was filed by Dr. Randeep Dhillon of Bakersfield on behalf of himself and Bol Punjabi All Regions Community Organization in California. Dhillon is suing Jay Leno for showing a picture of the Sikh holy shrine Golden Temple in Amritsar, India as the image of Mitt Romney’s summer home. The obvious parody is entirely protected but Dhillon has claimed that it constitutes libel.

Dhillon argues that the joke and image created libel on its face that exposed Sikhs and their religion to hatred, contempt and ridicule by portraying the holiest place in the Sikh religion as a vacation resort owned by a non-Sikh. That would be ridiculous on its face and presumably will prompt a filing for sanctions as a frivolous and vexatious lawsuit.

In Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988), the United States Supreme Court voted unanimous 8–0 to reject a libel claim based on an obvious joke. Hustler ran a parody in poor taste that suggested Falwell had an incestuous encounter with his mother in an outhouse. The court not only applied the higher New York Times v. Sullivan standard, but held that, even when the joke is meant to harm the image of the target, it can be protected:

“The appeal of the political cartoon or caricature is often based on exploitation of unfortunate physical traits or politically embarrassing events – an exploitation often calculated to injure the feelings of the subject of the portrayal. . . Despite their sometimes caustic nature, from the early cartoon portraying George Washington as an ass down to the present day, graphic depictions and satirical cartoons have played a prominent role in public and political debate.”

What is astonishing about this lawsuit is that no reasonable person would view this picture as defamatory or harmful to any individual, let alone to a group — even if it were ever taken seriously.

The Sikh litigants in this case have joined Muslim litigants in showing as little sense of law as they do a sense of humor. In the United States, it is extremely difficult to maintain a “group libel” case even when there is jurisdiction. One of the leading cases occurred in 1952 in a New York lawsuit. In Neiman-Marcus v. Lait, 13 FRD 311 (SDNY 1952), employees of that high-end store sued the author of a book titled “U.S.A. Confidential.” The book claimed that some of the models at the store and all of the saleswomen in the Dallas store were “call girls.” It further stated that most of the salesmen in the men’s department were “faggots.” The issue came down to the size of the group. With 382 saleswomen and models, the court found that the group was too large. However, with the 25 salesmen, the court found that an action could be maintained.

Dhillon uses the lawsuit to complain about Leno’s past statements regarding Sikhs: “Previously, in 2007 he called Sikhs ‘diaper heads.’ In 2010, he remarked, falsely so, in his monolog that President Obama could not visit Sri Darbar Sahib because of requirements of wearing a turban. Clearly, Jay Leno’s racist comments need to be stopped right here.”

As reprehensible as such comments can be, the torts system is not designed to correct sectarian or religious sensibilities.

Dhillon however is not alone in being humor-challenged. Vayalar Ravi, the visiting affairs minister for non-resident Indians, has called on the government to crackdown: “I believe the person who has shown [it] is not that ignorant. The American government should also look at this kind of thing.”

In the interests of legal clarity, below are the summer homes that I have purchased with the copious advertising revenue from this blog:

Source: Daily Mail

24 thoughts on “Sikhs Sue Leno Over Joke Involving Sacred Temple”

  1. I prefer Blouise’s summer home to those stuffy places you purchaed Mr. Turley! Besides, her summer home is cuter.

  2. As a Sikh I am outraged that some fringe group claiming to be representing Sikhs has sued Jay Leno. In fact Sikhs unlike Muslims have a great sense of self deprecating humor. This whole thing has been given too much importance by Indian Government’s propaganda machine which wants to portray Sikhs in bad light.

    Jay Leno has done nothing wrong and it is just joke on Romney. In fact because of this dumb and idiotic law suit we can expect to see the racist bigots come out of their holes and spew their nonsense against Sikhs.

  3. Street Wise,
    You can’t be serious, expelling folks for their religion and capricious legal cases.
    Tell me it’s not true. I’m so easily taken in.

  4. A building cannot sue for libel. Owner of building cannot sue for libel of the building. Catholic cannot sue someone for libeling the Catholic Church. Catholic Church cannot sue someone for libeling a church building. Caltholic Church cannot sue someone for libeling a pedophine priest (thats most of em). Other religions have no greater claim. Mitt Romney cannot sue because his real name is Willard Romney. Plaintiff Sikh here is gonna have to start with Willard’s real birth certiicate. Plaintiff is barking up the wrong tree.

  5. Blouise:

    Love your summer home. Mine is a garden shed with lawn equipment and yard tools.

  6. I have a very sensible Sikh friend whom I intend to ask about this suit. I am confident that he will agree that it’s frivolous. That being said, a perusal of Prof. Turley’s vacation homes suggests that process servers will soon be standing in line outside his front door.

  7. And now Romney’s family can sue the Sikhs for defamation for claiming the use of the family name (Romney) defames them (Sikhs) and they (Romney) can sue Leno for defaming their (Romney’s) religion by associating it with the Sikh’s Temple … a plethora of proceedings progresses

  8. What would you expect when it was Indira Ghandi’s Sikh bodyguards who assassinated her in 1984! Sikhs have deviated from their faith – look at former Yogi Bhajan who’s second in command went to prison for racketeering – refer Gurujot Singh Khalsa,

    If this Plaintiff is so thin skinned and quick to file a frivolous and vexatious lawsuit which violates 1st Amendment, he should move to Amritsar.

    Recommendation : one way ticket back to India. No re-entry to U.S.A. If this ‘Sikh’ doesn’t appreciate America, he should LEAVE.

  9. Not smart, Professor. You bought summer homes in hot climates. You’d be better off using them in the winter. 🙂

  10. Chances are good that without this suit hardly anyone in America except for Sikhs would recognize the building. Good work Mr. Dillon.

    From the look of the Professors summer homes I’m in the wrong business, I’ve gotta get me one of those blawgs so I can sell some advertising too. My scheme to spray paint product names on my cats and loose them in the neighborhood just isn’t bringing in any cash at all. ;-/

  11. Dumb lawsuit. The touchiness of various religions to what are really their trappings, rather than their essence, actually degrades their beliefs, though unknowingly to them.

    As for the summer homes I think the topmost is probably the favorite for JT and his flock, that reflecting pool is so tranquil. I could only imagine the bliss of a balmy summer day in Agra, lying by the pool in that refreshing 95 degree humidity.

  12. AY,
    that is a good one. You do know that you will rot in hell for telling the truth about priestly abuse, don’t you?! 🙂

  13. It is a ridiculous lawsuit. I hope Leno gets a few bucks out of the Sikh’s for this action. Besides, the joke was about Romney, not about the Sikh’s.

  14. Oh my……..

    I suppose the Catholic Church will have to be politically correct from this day forward….The House of Cardinals should be appropriately renamed…To The House of Swallows……

    That’s a joke…..maybe not…..Truth is a Defense……

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