On October 1, activists from the group Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) took a break from handing out anti-abortion pamphlets, and went to Bedlam Coffee in Seattle, Washington.
As the activists quietly drank their brew, the owner of the shop, Ben Borgman, entered the room and demanded that they leave. Although the group had allegedly not handed out any pamphlets in the shop, Borgman had one in his possession, and was offended by what he saw.
Holding the anti-abortion material, which can be seen in the video footage initially uploaded to Facebook, Borgman says: "I’m gay. You have to leave." A female activists then asks: "Are you denying us service?" to which Borgman replies: "I am, yeah."
The conversation continues, with a male activist asking: "So, why aren’t we allowed to stay?" Borgman answers: "This is offensive to me. I own the place. I have a right to be offended."
After an increasingly terse discussion, Borgman becomes more agitated. Pointing to the pamphlet, he says: "This is you; I do not want these people in this place. This is extremely offensive."
When one of the activists notes that Borgman was "not willing to tolerate our presence," the coffee shop owner becomes visibly angry, and the exchange goes on from there:
BORGMAN: Can you tolerate my presence?
ACTIVIST: We are. We’re actually in your coffee shop.
BORGMAN: Really? If I go get my boyfriend right now and f**k him in the a** right here, you’re going to tolerate that?
ACTIVIST: That would be your choice.
BORGMAN: Are you going to tolerate it? Answer my f***ing question! No, you’re going to sit right here and f***ing watch it.
ACTIVIST: Well, no, I mean, we don’t want to watch that.
BORGMAN: Well then, I don’t have to f***ing tolerate this. Then leave — all of you! Tell all your f**king friends don’t come here!
[WARNING: Video Contains Strong Language]
This incident is a perfect lesson in free-market economics.
Conservatives have rightly been disturbed by the instances of Christian business owners being sued for their refusal to participate in activities that violate their deeply held religious beliefs. Florists, bakers, chapel owners — all varieties of wedding-related businesses have seen the legal axe come down on them simply because they politely declined involvement in same-sex weddings.
It would be easy to turn the tables and condemn the coffee shop owner for his actions. However, as conservatives, we should be looking at this case in a different light. This was the free-market at work.
Was Bedlam Coffee owner, Ben Borgman, rude and vulgar? Without question, yes. Was the manner in which the incident took place unfortunate? Again, yes. Did Borgman have the right to refuse service to individuals whose views he found deeply offensive? Yes.
In a free-market, any business owner should be allowed to refuse service to any potential customer. The result, of course, could be that Bedlam Coffee goes under.
If enough Christians and anti-abortion activists see this video and decide to take their business elsewhere, Bedlam may lose a great deal of revenue. Such a loss will have one of three effects: 1) Bedlam loses money and goes out of business; 2) Borgman decides to serve customers with beliefs he finds offensive in order to remain competitive; 3) Nothing changes due to Seattle’s very progressive population keeping the discriminatory business afloat.
Regardless of the outcome, this is not an incident over which conservatives should become angry, this is an incident we can use to educate people on the values of the free market. Sure, we can condemn Borgman’s crude behavior, but the core lesson, economically speaking, is something conservatives have been yelling into the wind for years.
Perhaps progressives will actually take notice this time.