I was casually reviewing property statutes for Oklahoma, as one is wont to do, when I came upon:

60 OK Stat s60-49:

The following land burdens or servitudes upon land, may be attached to other land as incidents or appurtenances, and are then called easements:


  1. The right of a seat in church

How can "The right of a seat in church" burden a land as an easement?

What does a "right of a seat in church" easement even mean?

1 Answer 1


It means what it says

The person who owns the land has a right to a seat in the parish church and, if there are not enough seats then they get one and other people have to stand.

This is all pretty archaic but it stems from English law where parishes were geo-political and not just religious. Who got to sit was decided by the church-wardens and parishioners had a right to a seat without payment - visitors could be charged. However, some parishioners had an additional right by virtue of their office or landholding to a seat before other parishioners.

The United States is in some ways a legal “time capsule”. Many common law countries have progressively codified the common law which tends to “fossilise” the law since judges are no longer able to say “well, that was a sensible law then but it’s clearly outdated so I’m changing it”. Since the United States did this earlier and harder than most other jurisdictions and has a natural progression back in time from the west to the east you get these lovely little anachronisms.

  • 2
    it is worth observing that it is not at all clear that such a property right is enforceable in a court under modern establishment clause jurisprudence under the federal First Amendment, under doctrines developed long after this statute was originally written. Indeed, the Oklahoma statute itself is probably the product of thoughtless copying of a statute from another state's statutes ultimately derived from pre-Bill of Rights law in the American colonial era.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 23:35
  • 2
    @ohwilleke please feel free to add that observation
    – Dale M
    Commented Jun 24, 2020 at 23:36
  • 3
    For something really archaic: in England the obligation to repair the church may go with the land. Only if the church was built before 1536 though. bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-26373756
    – richardb
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 8:29
  • 4
    In England, churches historically had "box pews" were were effectively private seating, so a "right to a seat" did not mean "somebody else might be forced to stand" if the church is full but "you have your own personal reserved seats for the members of your household" - i.e. quite likely you held the key to the door of a specific "box". This is the same meaning of "box" as in a theater auditorium - each "box pew" had a partition around it, so the occupants could see the preacher but were invisible to the congregation outside the box. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Box_pew
    – alephzero
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 9:03
  • 2
    @alephzero true but the right pre-dates pews (let alone box-pews) - it goes back to a time when seats in churches were movable.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 9:18

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