Abstract This paper considers whether the positivist account of law is useful in guiding states in how they should deal with religious or customary legal orders followed by minority groups within their jurisdiction. It argues, first, that such
orders can be said to exist despite the prevalence of disagreement about the grounds of law. It then argues, contrary to views advanced by Scott Shapiro and Joseph Raz, that there are good reasons for perceiving that the resolution of legal disputes by reference to moral principle involves
the application of pre‐existing law. However, the paper concludes by arguing that the Social Thesis has an important role in supplying the basis upon which the application of law can be deemed to be legitimate, and that this has relevance to the way states might respond
to minority legal orders.