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By Cassandra Vinograd and Nancy Ing

France's highest court will examine Thursday whether local bans on burkinis — full-body swimsuits worn by some Muslim women — are legal.

Several French towns and cities have banned burkinis from their beaches this summer, sparking outcry from religious groups who say the moves are discriminatory and illegal.

A Muslim woman wears a burkini on a beach in Marseille, France, on August 17.STRINGER / Reuters

In levying the bans, local authorities have cited security and the risks of public disorder amidst the ongoing terror threat. France's southern Muslim federation has fired back and said the bans seek only to stigmatize and inflame religious tensions, showing the country has taken a "grave turn."

The debate hit fever pitch this week when images circulated online showing armed policemen surrounding a Muslim woman and forcing her to take off her tunic — not a burkini.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls appeared to defend the bans in an interview with BFM TV, saying that burkinis are a "symbol" of the "enslavement of women."

The French League of Human Rights has appealed to the Council of State to rule on whether the ordinance in Villeneuce-Loubet banning "all persons not wearing proper" attire from the beach — is legal.

The Council of State is expected to rule within 48 hours.

Social-media was alight with critique over the ban and a protest was organized outside of the French embassy in London.

While the burkini bans have provoked an outcry, France's approach to religious attire has long sparked controversy. In 2010 France passed a law that bans the burqa, an Islamic veil that completely covers women's faces and bodies.

The Associated Press contributed.